SW Legal studies in Business

Groups Cannot Sue for Libel or Emotional Distress
Description

Court dismissed a suit for defamation and emotional distress brought on behalf of 400 persons who claimed to have suffered from a false statement. Such group claims cannot stand; only individuals can bring such actions.

Topic Torts
Key Words

Defamation; Emotional Distress; Group Libel; Movie

C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts

The movie “American Gangster” claimed to be based on a true story involving a heroin dealer, Lucas, who was a big deal in the New York City drug trade in the late 60s and early 70s. Eventually, Lucas cooperated in the prosecution of some high-level drug dealers. Three agents of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) at that time sued Universal, the film maker, on behalf of 400 DEA agents, contending that they were all defamed by a false legend that appears on screen at the end of the film, stating that the help of Lucas “led to the conviction of three quarters of New York City’s Drug Enforcement Agency.” That statement is false. Plaintiffs sued for damages and for an injunction against distribution of the film until the statement was corrected. Defendant moved to dismiss the complaint.

Decision

Motion granted. The allegedly defamatory statement did not give rise to causes of action for emotional distress or for libel because the statement could not be shown to be of or concerning any particular person. Under the group libel doctrine, when a reference is made to a large group of people, no individual within that group can fairly say that the statement is about him, nor can the group as a whole state a claim for defamation.

Citation

Diaz v. NBC Universal, Inc., ---F.Supp.2d--- (2008 WL 465235, S.D. N.Y., 2008)

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