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Dismissed Professor vs. Student Libel Lawsuit Leads to Sanctions Requests, Denied All Around

"The statements include that Hubbard ... has been 'advocating for pederasty (pedophilia) for as long as he has taught at the University of Texas.'"


The backstory, from the Austin American-Statesman (Lara Korte):

A University of Texas professor who was the subject of widespread criticism for his teachings on adult male relationships with underage boys in antiquity is suing a student who he says spread false statements about him.

Thomas K. Hubbard, a longtime professor in UT's classics department, filed a federal lawsuit in Austin this week alleging that UT sophomore Sarah Blakemore and 10 other unknown individuals, listed as John Does, committed libel against him by making and distributing a flyer calling for his removal.

The suit says Blakemore, in concert with the John Does, made multiple false statements about Hubbard and his writings that ultimately resulted in "significant damages to his reputation, mental anguish, and emotional distress."

(For more, see this Inside Higher Ed (Colleen Flaherty) story.)

And from today's Report and Recommendation in Hubbard v. Blakemore, by Magistrate Judge Dustin Howell (W.D. Tex.); such a recommendation can be appealed to the District Judge, but in my experience they usually end up sticking:

Defendant Sarah Allen Blakemore moves for sanctions against Plaintiff Thomas Hubbard, Ph.D., who dismissed his suit against her. {Blakemore identifies herself as "the daughter of a prominent Republican" in her pleadings.} She asserts that Hubbard sued her for the improper purpose of pressuring the University of Texas to settle his age discrimination claims. Blakemore asserts that Hubbard received a $700,000.00 settlement agreement with the University, and that the terms of that agreement required him to dismiss his claims against Blakemore, which he has done.

Blakemore maintains that Hubbard's claims against her were frivolous and brought in bad faith, and requests that the undersigned award her sanctions pursuant to its "inherent power" and pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Blakemore requests that she recover her attorneys' fees as sanctions. Hubbard responds that Blakemore's motion is frivolous, and in return requests sanctions for the costs of responding to it.

Hubbard's underlying suit against Blakemore is a defamation suit. In his Complaint, he alleged that she published and circulated a flyer to multiple third parties in and around the University of Texas, as well as Twitter, asserting various statements which Hubbard maintains are false. The statements include that Hubbard:

  • has been "advocating for pederasty (pedophilia) for as long as he has taught at the University of Texas";
  • "used his position to further a community of individuals hoping to prey on underaged boys";
  • "in his academic writing" Hubbard "describes physical relationships between men and young boys as 'proper learning experiences'";
  • taught a course called the "Mythology of Rape" that was banned at the University of Texas after one semester; and
  • "is heavily associated with the North American Man/Boy Love Association ('NAMBLA')," which Blakemore described as "formerly the world's largest pedophile activist group" and that Hubbard is on the list of associated individuals on the NAMBLA Wikipedia page.

The flyer in issue called for Hubbard's removal and states that:

an individual who advocates for violent crime against teen boys has no business teaching the leaders of tomorrow. It is clear that the University of Texas does not have its students' safety, health, and welfare in mind …. We refuse to stand by while this man uses his status to promote pedophilia.

Additionally. Hubbard asserted Blakemore slandered him in an interview she gave to the Austin American-Stateman. Hubbard argued that these statements qualify as defamatory, are false, and have damaged his reputation. He also alleged he suffered damages as a result of Blakemore's statements when his home was vandalized and the words "CHILD RAPIST" spray-painted on it. He alleged this caused him fear and forced him to relocate to California. In her defense, Blakemore argued that the statements in the flyer, Twitter, and to the media were true or substantially true, and that they were also a matter of opinion….

The undersigned has reviewed the exhibits attached to Blakemore's motion and finds them inadequate to impose sanctions against Hubbard or his attorneys pursuant to the Court's inherent powers. Blakemore's motion for sanctions is based largely on her apparent belief that Hubbard's case against her and two other University of Texas students was brought merely to pressure the University of Texas to settle Hubbard's age discrimination suit against it. As evidence, she relies on the fact that Hubbard requested a large payout to settle a previous suit with the University several years ago, which it declined, and that dismissal of Hubbard's claim against her and two other students were included in his agreement to settle with the University.

Blakemore's suspicions do not rise to the level of evidence required for the undersigned to find that Hubbard's litigation against her was vexatious, brought in bad faith, or oppressive. Hubbard has presented evidence that part of his EEOC Charge included a sexual orientation discrimination claim and that he asserted that the University helped foster a hostile work environment against Hubbard, including the dissemination of the flyer by Blakemore and others. Additionally, Hubbard has submitted evidence that Blakemore testified that she met with the University's Vice President of Legal Affairs Jim Davis the morning after distributing the flyer and gave him a copy, and also discussed the flyer with President Greg Fenves who told Blakemore "not to worry" about Hubbard's suit.

Hubbard has submitted evidence to the Court explaining why the University included settlement of Hubbard's claims against Blakemore in its settlement agreement, and those reasons are unrelated to his previous age discrimination suit, but show the University's desire to minimize its own exposure, unknown to Hubbard at the time he filed the suit, if the suit against Blakemore continued. Blakemore's citation of the settlement agreement as "evidence" of Hubbard's bad faith in making claims against her and using her as a "bargaining chip" in his settlement is simply conjecture on her part, and unsupported by any evidence.

Blakemore asserts that Hubbard's claims against her are improper because the flyer and statements he complains of qualify as an expression of Blakemore's opinions and/or contain truthful statements. In essence she asks the undersigned to assess the evidence and determine if Hubbard's claims against her and her defenses have merit. The undersigned finds that Hubbard's claims, on their face, are not frivolous and that determination of their potential merit would be the province of a jury after a trial, and not appropriate based on the limited evidence before the undersigned. Regardless, Hubbard's pleadings and claims do not rise to the level of bad faith.

Additionally, Blakemore makes much of Hubbard's claims against various John Does. Hubbard's Complaint states that after publication of the alleged defamatory statements, his house was attacked, and he cites this attack as the basis of his mental anguish and emotional distress. Blakemore asserts that Hubbard admitted that he never believed that she was working in concert with the individuals that vandalized his house, and that this "admission" shows his John Doe claims are vexatious.

However, despite Blakemore's contentions, Hubbard did not plead that Blakemore personally acted to cause the vandalism of his home, but that her statements motivated their violence. Additionally, Hubbard has submitted evidence that Blakemore knew who attacked Hubbard's home immediately afterward, and had contacts with that group. Additionally, the flyer in issue was purportedly published by a group called "Students for Safety" while Blakemore was the only individual named on the flyer. Hubbard and his counsel had logical reasons for naming John Does in his suit in conjunction with his defamation claims. Blakemore has not submitted evidence supporting her claim that Hubbard's John Doe claims were brought for an improper purpose or in bad faith.

With regard to Blakemore's claims pursuant to § 1927, Blakemore complains that the defamation suits filed against two other individuals for other statements made at other times students show Hubbard's desire to needlessly multiply the proceedings and increase expenses to the defendants when he could have brought a single suit. The undersigned finds that no rule requires Hubbard to bring his claims against three different individuals in one suit in this instance. Moreover, the Defendants in the three suits could have moved to consolidate the suits and did not. And, Blakemore has failed to explain how Hubbard's choice to sue three individuals separately in any way increased her litigation costs. Hubbard's counsel did not act in bad faith in filing separate suits. This argument is without merit.

{Hubbard requests that the Court sua sponte impose sanctions on Blakemore for her sanctions motion. The undersigned finds that the parties' best interests are served by getting off the sanctions merry-go-round, and declines to award sanctions to Hubbard.}