Seventh Circuit Rules Against Scottie Pippen

In Pippen v NBCUniversal Media, LLC, et al, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of former Chicago Bulls star Scottie Pippen’s defamation and false light invasion of privacy complaint with prejudice. Pippen alleged that various media reports on the internet defamed him because they falsely reported that he had filed for bankruptcy. Pippen contended that the statements constituted defamation per se because they imputed a lack of ability in his business dealings. He also attempted to state claims of defamation per quod and false light by alleging that he suffered special damages because his opportunities for endorsements were diminished as result of the publications.

In affirming the dismissal of Pippen’s claims, the court ruled that an accusation of bankruptcy did not fall into a per se category of defamation. The court found that Pippen’s allegation that he lost specific business opportunities as a consequence of the statements was weak but sufficient to state a claim for defamation per quod; however, it nonetheless dismissed that claim and the false light claim because Pippen could not show actual malice, i.e. that the defendants published the statements knowing the information was false or in reckless disregard of the truth. The court reiterated that a failure to investigate is insufficient to establish reckless disregard of the truth. Finally, the court found that the single publication rule was applicable to internet publications and that keeping an unaltered defamatory statement on the internet after a publisher learned of its falsity did not constitute an actionable republication.

Pippen demonstrates that courts will not strain to fit statements into narrowly limited per se categories that do not require proof of actual economic loss. The holding with respect to the single publication rule is significant because no Illinois decisions had previously addressed the issue with respect to internet publications.

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