Central Michigan Lawyer Keeps Defamation Suit Alive
|Lawyer Todd Levitt|
With his first suit dismissed, Levitt sued again, this time naming the Morning Sun, the reporter covering the story, and other individuals as defendants claiming defamation, false light, civil conspiracy, invasion of his privacy, and other torts; he is seeking a million dollars for each count of his lawsuit. When the newspaper tried to get the case dismissed, the Isabella County Circuit Court said, "no" last month and scheduled the matter for trial.
The Morning Sun has appealed the ruling, but the case is not stayed during the interlocutory appeal and could go to trial this spring.
The issue decided against the newspaper hinges on whether their reporting on Levitt, and an award that he allegedly created -Top College Lawyer- and bestowed on himself, was materially false, or whether the "gist" or "sting" of their report was true. When it reported on this mess, the Morning Sun headline read: "Mt. Pleasant Lawyer suing student admits to fake award, marijuana tweets".
The trial judge concluded that the headline had a significant sting for the lawyer and that he made no such admission; it was the CMU student that Levitt was suing who alleged, apparently in a court proceeding, that Levitt's award was "fake". Also, the trial judge rejected the newspaper's attempt to characterize Levitt as a "public figure", which would significantly increase the defamation plaintiff's burden of proof in presenting his case to a jury.
To establish a claim for defamation, Mr. Levitt must prove by a preponderance of the evidence that:
- defendants made a false or defamatory statement about him;
- defendants published the statement to a third party but did not have a privilege to do so;
- defendants are at fault to at least the degree of negligence in making the statement;
- the statement has a "sting" or a tendency to harm Levitt's reputation.
Now, unless the newspaper and the other defendants want to have the merits of their conduct tested through a jury trial, a settlement is the only other way out. We will continue to monitor the case and post the result.