State trial court grants publisher defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss defamation case brought by brother of pop star Mariah Carey against singer and others involved in publishing her memoir, finding that themes including domestic violence and child abuse, as well as Carey’s career, were matters of legitimate public interest and plaintiff failed to sufficiently allege actual malice, and grants in part Carey’s motion to dismiss.
Plaintiff Morgan Carey sued his sister—pop star Mariah Carey—and the publishers of her memoir, The Meaning of Mariah Carey, alleging that they had defamed him in a number of passages in the book by portraying him as violent and implying that he had committed crimes. The court dismissed all the defamation claims against the publisher defendants, and it dismissed six of the eight defamation claims against Carey.
The court dismissed the claims against the three publisher defendants—publisher Macmillan Publishers Ltd.; Carey’s coauthor, Michaela Angela Davis; and Macmillan imprint Andy Cohen Books —under New York’s recently enacted anti-SLAPP law. As a preliminary matter, the court found that the challenged speech fell within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute (aimed at preventing individuals from utilizing the courts to intimidate others who are exercising their First Amendment rights). The court determined that notwithstanding the fact that the book detailed Carey’s personal life, matters such as domestic violence and child abuse warrant public attention, and excerpts reasonably related to her career were matters of legitimate public interest and not “mere gossip and prurient interest.”
Because the challenged speech fell within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute, the burden fell on plaintiff to demonstrate that his claims have substantial basis in law, which the court found plaintiff failed to carry.
Specifically, of the nine allegedly defamatory statements, plaintiff alleged six are defamatory and three are defamatory per se. As to the six allegedly defamatory statements, the court found that two of those statements reasonably conveyed a defamatory connotation that plaintiff was abusive toward his family and were therefore actionable because plaintiff alleged that the factual bases of those statements were either falsely misrepresented or grossly distorted by Carey. The court found other statements not to be defamatory, however, because they were subjective and constituted opinions rather than factual statements that could be disproven. These statements included Carey likening plaintiff to the “Big Bad Wolf” and plaintiff being associated with “sketchy” and “questionable” people. Additionally, hyperbolic statements such as “little ticket to wealth and fame” and “paid back five thousand times over” were found to be nonactionable because an average reader would not reasonably conclude that plaintiff had engaged in the criminal act of extortion. Nevertheless, the court dismissed the claims based on these allegedly defamatory statements because plaintiff failed to plead special damages. Though plaintiff alleged that a film producer ended negotiations for a film production of a screenplay written by plaintiff and his wife following the book’s publication, plaintiff failed to offer the express terms of his agreement with the producer, and further, the complaint’s allegations supported a finding that the business relationship soured due to Carey’s reputation, not plaintiff’s.
As to the three allegedly defamatory per se statements, the court agreed with plaintiff that Carey’s statements that plaintiff was a “sometimes drug dealing, been-in-the-system, drunk-ass brother” and “discreetly supplied the beautiful people with their powdered party favors” would lead an average reader to reasonably conclude that plaintiff had committed the serious crime of distributing cocaine and had spent time in prison for it. As defamatory per se statements do not require special damages, the court denied Carey’s motion to dismiss with respect to these statements.
The court did grant the publisher defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion in full because it found that plaintiff failed to sufficiently plead actual malice against the publisher defendants. Although the publishers did not ask plaintiff to verify anything in the book, the publishers’ failure to investigate the truth of a statement alone was insufficient proof of actual malice. The court also concluded that evidence that Carey was vindictive did not mean the publishers should have questioned the veracity of her statements. Finally, consistent with its other rulings, the court denied plaintiff’s motion for discovery on the issue of actual malice based on the insufficient pleading.
Summary prepared by Linna Chen and Alex Loh