President Donald Trump has scored an initial win in Stormy Daniels’ defamation suit. On Monday, October 15, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero dismissed the suit alleging that Trump’s April 18, 2018, tweet defamed Daniels. Trump is also entitled to legal fees. Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, tweeted later that day that he had filed a Notice of Appeal with the Ninth Circuit.
This defamation lawsuit is just one piece of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Daniels-Trump sex scandal. In March 2018, Daniels appeared in a “60 Minutes” interview and alleged that a man threatened her to remain quiet about her affair with Trump in a Las Vegas parking lot in 2011. The following month, Daniels and her attorney, Michael J. Avenatti, made public a composite sketch of that man on ABC’s “The View”.
On April 18, 2018, Trump retweeted a post showing side-by-side photos of the composite sketch and Stormy Daniels’ husband. He added the comment, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!”
Daniels filed her complaint against Trump on April 30, 2018, seeking damages. She argued that Trump intended to convey that she is a liar and “that she was falsely accusing the individual depicted in the sketch of committing a crime, where no crime had been committed.” Consequently, she charged Trump’s tweet as defamatory, and also claimed that the tweet was defamation per se because it charged her with committing a serious crime. Daniels further claimed that Trump acted with actual malice because he knew of the falsity of his tweet, or acted in reckless disregard for the truth when he posted it.
On August 27, 2018, Trump brought a motion to dismiss, contending that the complaint failed to state a cause of action for defamation because the tweet constituted a protected opinion, and he did not act with malice or reckless disregard for the truth. He also argued that Daniels did not suffer damages as a result of the tweet.
The court granted dismissal this Monday, agreeing with Trump’s argument because, “the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.” Judge Otero wrote that, having determined that Trump’s tweet is non-actionable, the Court’s analysis of the motion is complete and it is therefore unnecessary to address Daniels’ actual malice and damages arguments.
Ashley Park is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2021).