Legal Blog: Brooks Ayers To Sue Meghan Edmonds For Defamation?

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Meghan Edmonds_RHOC

There is a tall, fair-haired cast member on Bravo’s ‘Real Housewives’ series that is stirring up trouble, and her possibly defamatory statements (and invasion of privacy) could be actionable in a court of law. No, it’s not Real Housewives of Beverly Hill’s Brandi Glanville. RHOC newcomer, Meghan King Edmonds, has attempted to disprove Brooks Ayers’ diagnosis of stage 3 Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma throughout Season 10 of the Bravo hit.  On a recent episode, Meghan stated, “I think his PET-CT scan is forged.”

RHOC star Vicki Gunvalson’s ex, Brooks Ayers, has faced significant criticism about his health choices, and Meghan, who is an uninhibited Bravolebrity, took it one step further claiming Brooks is faking his cancer.  Now the question is whether Brooks will file a lawsuit against Meghan King Edmonds.

The newest member of the RHOC cast apparently made phone calls to Brooks’ doctor, and his ex-girlfriend, who reportedly revealed he had faked cancer once before, all of which Meghan broadcast to viewers during an episode. As for the phone calls to Brooks’ doctor, the former sales executive alleged she found out one didn’t treat cancer, and a second didn’t offer a procedure Brooks claimed to have had.

There is no doubt medical records are considered confidential information under federal privacy laws, established by the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA).  If Meghan received confidential information and/or obtained Brooks’ medical records, he was likely the victim of improper (and illegal) disclosure of medical records through inadequate maintenance of records and/or unauthorized snooping of his patient file.

Brooks could seek relief in the courts and sue for invasion of privacy or breach of doctor-patient confidentiality, and retrieve damages as compensation for injuries suffered as a result of the disclosure of medical records. Brooks could similarly file a complaint with the federal government, which can be accessed from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services (HHS).  Opportunities for the improper disclosure of protected medical information are infinite thanks to hackers and disreputable individuals, as are lawsuits for the tort of breach of medical confidentiality that follow.

Both the United States Constitution and the California Constitution contain a right to privacy.  The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution guarantees the right of citizens to be secure in their own persons, houses, papers, and effects.

An invasion of privacy claim is likely to involve an intentional intrusion, physical or otherwise, at a secluded place or in the private affairs or concerns of another, without permission. The intrusion is “highly offensive” to an ordinary, reasonable person. Finally, the interference with the victim’s privacy is substantial, but there is not necessarily a requirement that the information gained through the intrusion be published.  Thus it may be easier to prove invasion of privacy over defamation. 

The intrusion upon seclusion tort involves the acquisition of private information through “unreasonable means.”  To prevail, plaintiff generally must prove:

  • The defendant, without authorization, intentionally invaded the private affairs of the plaintiff;
  • The invasion must be offensive to a reasonable person;
  • The matter that the defendant intruded upon must involve a private matter; and
  • The intrusion must have caused mental anguish or suffering to the plaintiff (damages).
  • Recoverable damages may include emotional distress, injury to reputation, as well as punitive damages if the conduct rose to the level of egregiousness. 

Following the September 28 episode of RHOC in which Meghan claimed Brooks’ medical records were phony, Brooks took to Twitter, where he retweeted a few fans’ messages about lodging a legal action against Meghan for defamation of character and invasion of private medical records. Brooks wrote to “stay tuned” regarding a possible appearance in court.

Meghan sue tweets_RHOC

Meghan sue tweets_RHOC

Meghan sue tweets_RHOC

In response, Meghan Edmonds tweeted,

Meghan sue tweets_RHOC

Did the wife of ex-baseball star Jim Edmonds make defamatory statements? The intentional tort of defamation occurs when one person makes a false statement about another person and the statement harms that person’s reputation in some way.  When the false statement is spoken, it’s known as slander.  The reputational harm to Brooks’ business, health, family life, and personal life is obvious since the insinuation is that he is lying about having a deadly disease to gain sympathy.

Traditionally, defamation actions allow a plaintiff to recover for a defendant’s false statements that harm the plaintiff’s reputation. A plaintiff must show (1) a false and defamatory statement of and concerning him/her; (2) publication to a third-party without privilege; (3) that the defendant was at least negligent; and (4) harm or defamation per se.

Most courts recognize a list of affirmative defenses to defamation.  Do any of the below-mentioned defenses apply here?

The statement is true.

The statement was an opinion, not a fact. Expressions of opinion, as opposed to assertions of fact, are deemed privileged and, no matter how offensive, cannot be the subject of an action for defamation. 

In the case of public figures, the defendant had a good-faith belief in the truth of the statement.

The statement was made with good motive and were fair comments made as a private citizen exercising her right of free speech, discussing matters of public importance, as a concerned citizen of the community.

Merely couching an assertion of fact as an opinion – e.g., “It is my opinion that Brooks is faking his cancer diagnosis” – will not render the statement protected.  So long as a statement makes avowals that are provably true or false, it is a statement of fact that can form the basis of a defamation claim. 

Grab your gavel, join the conversation, and let us know whether you think Brooks should take Meghan King Edmonds – as Shannon Beador likes to call her by her full name – to court.


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