The Volokh Conspiracy
Mostly law professors | Sometimes contrarian | Often libertarian | Always independent
Libel law requires more than just a showing of false factual allegations about the plaintiff (plus, generally, knowledge/reckless/sometimes negligence as to the falsehood). It also requires that the allegations tend to diminish the plaintiff's reputation, and the decision Friday by Judge Paul Crotty (S.D.N.Y.) in Lindell v. Mail Media Inc. held that this story didn't have that tendency:
Even assuming the romance never happened, the [allegation] would not defame Lindell. Dating an actress—secret or not—would not cause "public hatred," "shame," "ridicule," or any similar feeling towards Lindell. Both Lindell and Krakowski are unmarried adults, and Lindell's alleged actions typify those of a person in a consenting relationship….
Lindell also claims the Article falsely associates him with alcohol because it said he bought Krakowski champagne and other bottles of liquor. That association is indirect at best. The Article never stated Lindell consumes alcohol himself. In fact, it explicitly noted Lindell is sober.
Inferring a step further, Lindell claims the Article still defamed him because he would never buy alcohol or "foist" it on other people after recovering from his own addiction. But whatever Lindell's personal history with addiction, buying alcohol for a dating partner would not reasonably expose him to "public hatred," "shame," or "ridicule." The purchase of alcohol is a legal and ordinary act…. [N]o reasonable reader could find it offensive to exchange champagne or other bottles of liquor as gifts between romantic partners….
Lindell asks the Court to view the Article through the lens of his faith and his redemptive story. He contends "in the context of his profession" as founder of the Lindell Recovery Network, "allegations that he is a hypocrite about issues of Christian morality and alcohol consumption can plausibly allege defamatory meaning." …
[E]ven in the light most favorable to Lindell's claim, the Court cannot find any language in the Article suggesting he is a hypocrite, at least regarding his romantic relationships or his abstention from alcohol. Importantly, the Article does not discuss the Lindell Recovery Network—or more generally, Lindell's work with people struggling with substance abuse—a single time….. The Article is also silent about Lindell's dating history (besides the fact that he has an ex-wife) and his views on relationships. All told, the Article simply does not provide any of Lindell's moral principles to juxtapose against his relationship with Krakowski. In other words, the reader would have no reason to think Lindell's actions would undermine his religious or charitable mission when the reader was never told about that mission in the first place.
In many states, even nondefamatory falsehoods could be actionable as "false light" invasion of privacy, if they are offensive enough. But New York, the relevant state in this case, doesn't recognize a false light theory.