On March 21, a jury panel in Florida awarded television celebrity, Hulk Hogan, $140 million in damages an invasion of privacy lawsuit against popular celebrity gossip website, Gawker. Tony Bollea, better known by his wrestling name Hulk Hogan, has been embroiled in a years-long legal battle with Gawker. This lawsuit, concerning a graphic sex tape of Hogan posted by Gawker on its site in 2012, seemed superficial at first blush. Yet, it soon became an unlikely battleground between First and Fourteenth Amendment rights – the right to free speech and the right to be free from undue invasion of privacy. At trial, the plaintiffs offered a variety of testimonial evidence separating Hogan’s public and private life in the jury’s eyes, and describing the hardships that resulted from the tape’s surprise release (after all, the tape did show Hogan with his best friend’s wife.) Trial evidence also offered some less soap opera-esque elements, with the plaintiffs calling many experts to testify about web analytics, digital marketing, and Constitutional doctrine.
It seems the defense’s arguments that Gawker was just acting within the company’s First Amendment rights were not able to sway the jury, and Hogan reportedly broke out sobbing when the verdict was announced. However, the defense is sure to appeal, and will likely argue the case should have been entirely precluded on First Amendment grounds. Because the appeal will be to a federal court of appeals, which are generally more amenable to Constitutional arguments, Hogan fans should keep their fingers crossed that the next time the Hulk sheds tears in a courtroom, they are not from sorrow.
Read more about the story here.
Jennifer Marr is an Entertainment and Sports Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2018).