One year ago, referee John Higgins officiated a controversial NCAA March Madness basketball matchup between Kentucky and North Carolina. In the wake of Kentucky’s loss, Kentucky Sports Radio hosts allegedly shared Higgins’s personal and business information and encouraged the vitriol directed by fans at the referee. Higgins was bombarded with thousands of calls and numerous death threats, and the social media pages for his Nebraska business were crushed with negative comments.
Higgins sued Kentucky Sports Radio, alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, tortious interference with a business, and civil conspiracy. Higgins sought $75,000 in damages. The case was moved from the District of Nebraska to the Eastern District of Kentucky, where it was dismissed last week.
The judge granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss, saying that Kentucky Radio Network’s “speech on matters of public concern” was protected by the First Amendment and that the hosts could not be held liable for the actions of third parties. The judge, acknowledging that the plaintiff’s frustration was understandable and his damages real, noted that his ruling was narrow and did not extend to all speech on matters of public concern. The judge left open the possibility for Higgins to sue those who harassed him directly.
Thomas “Buddy” Bardenwerper 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).