The facts of the legal skirmish between former “Real Housewives of Miami,” star Joanna Krupa, and “Real Housewives of Beverly Hills” personality Brandi Glanville are well-documented: Krupa sued Glanville for slander, libel, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Miami-Dade County on Jan. 22 after the former Mrs. Eddie Cibrian allegedly defamed Krupa on a November 2013 episode of “Watch What Happens Live.” Krupa seeks at least $15,000 in damages.
The former RHOM star contends Glanville knowingly made a false and malicious statement that she had sexual relations with Mohamed Hadid while Hadid was in an intact marriage to Yolanda Foster. Glanville also said on WWHL that Hadid, father to fashion models Bella and Gigi Hadid, told her that Krupa’s “p—-y smelled.”
Real estate developer Mohamed Hadid and his ex-wife Yolanda Foster, a fixture on RHOBH, have denied the allegations.
Here’s a quick legal refresher course on the tort of defamation, which is a false statement communicated to someone else that injures a person’s reputation or good name. Libel is defamation expressed in print, writings, emails, web pages, or tweets. Slander is words spoken to falsely prejudice another in his/her reputation, community standing, or means of livelihood.
In Florida, the prima facie elements for a defamation case that must be proved by the plaintiff are:
- the defendant published a false statement;
- about the plaintiff;
- to a third party (somebody other than the person defamed by the statement); and
- the falsity of the statement caused injury to the plaintiff (damages)
The elements needed to be alleged and proved to establish a cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress are: (1) deliberate or reckless infliction of emotional distress; (2) outrageous conduct; (3) the conduct caused the emotional distress; and (4) the distress was severe. The behavior must be “so outrageous in character, and so extreme in degree,” that it is considered “atrocious and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”
Krupa’s attorney Raymond J. Rafool sent a cease and desist letter dated Jan. 6 to Glanville demanding a public apology and retraction, and warned a slander suit could be forthcoming. The letter detailed Krupa’s intent to sue if the problem was not corrected and retractions of harmful statements were not made.
First-year law students know that if you do not want to give momentum to false statements, you try to refrain from litigating them. Consider the fact stars frequently abstain from suing gossip magazines for false statements (e.g., Jennifer Aniston has a baker’s dozen of children based on the number of times she has been charged with being pregnant by the tabloids) because the publicity that results from such suits can create a greater audience for the false statements than they previously enjoyed.
Public figures have to weigh defamation lawsuits from a legal, financial, and public perception/reputation perspective. While people who are targeted by lies may be inclined to right a wrong by filing a lawsuit, that is not always a prudent course. It is risky business to get into the defamation lawsuit game, and here are a couple of reasons why:
Even where the statements made by the defendant are entirely false, it may not be possible to prove all of the elements of defamation. Once you have established to the court that the statement made against you was in fact false, proving that the statement caused some form of injury is challenging. Glanville’s lawyers will argue the false statements in fact elevated Krupa’s status because it brought her more press, which may have provided Krupa with new, moneymaking ventures. Negative press can harm a person, however usually it can be a powerful catalyst for opportunities no matter the source or nature of the exposure.
In Florida, a private figure only has to prove negligence on the part of the defendant in a defamation suit whereas public figures (politicians, professional athletes, and other celebrities) must demonstrate the presence of actual malice with convincing evidence. The classification between public and private figure can be the difference between a victory and a defeat for a defamed plaintiff.
Florida courts recognize a number of defenses available to defendants in defamation actions, including truth, opinion, and the “substantial truth doctrine.” Under the “substantial truth doctrine,” if the “gist” of the statement at issue is accurate, then that will be enough to defeat a defamation claim for damages.
Relatedly, under U.S. law, in order for a statement to be defamatory, it must be verifiably false. For example, saying someone is boring is not defamatory, because one cannot prove or disprove the quality of being dull. In this case, Glanville’s statement regarding Krupa having an affair with Hadid while he was married can be verified, but body odor allegations from long ago cannot be confirmed.
I have previously written about the myriad benefits of settlements, however in a defamation lawsuit, settlements, which are often confidential, may leave the public with the wrong impression, i.e., the assertions made by Glanville were in fact true.
Krupa in her complaint asked for a jury trial. That move is questionable in part because some juries tend to give only small damage awards when the plaintiff is a famous individual. Think of this as the “jealous juror effect” in which jurors punish wealthy plaintiffs by awarding paltry damages. Thus, a jury could find in Krupa’s favor and still refuse to award a substantial sum, especially in a defamation case where quantifiable damages can be difficult to ascertain. At that point, some plaintiffs may ask, Was it all worth it? Clearing one’s name in a court of law is significant but so is justifying the expenditure of resources used to sue.
The law of defamation evolved to protect the interest an individual has in his/her own good name. No doubt Joanna Krupa is entitled to that protection like the rest of us. To what extent the law will provide her with a remedy remains to be seen. Should Krupa just let the story die? Does she have a legal leg to stand on? Those are questions I pose to AATT posters. Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know whether you think Krupa’s defamation lawsuit is winnable.
Stacy Slotnick, Esq. holds a J.D., cum laude, from Touro Law Center and a B.A., summa cum laude, from the University of Massachusetts Amherst. She performs a broad range of duties as an entertainment lawyer, including drafting and negotiating contracts; addressing and litigating trademark, copyright, and other IP issues; and directing the strategy and implementation of public relations, blogging, and social media campaigns.