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Supreme Court of the United States
July 2, 2021, Decided
The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.
Dissent by: THOMAS; GORSUCH
Justice Thomas, dissenting from the denial of certiorari.
In 2015, Guy Lawson published a book detailing the “true story” of how three Miami youngsters became international arms dealers. 973 F. 3d 1304, 1306 (CA11 2020). A central plot point involves the protagonists’ travels to Albania and subsequent run-ins with the “Albanian mafia,” a key figure of which, the book claims, is petitioner Shkelzen Berisha. The book performed well, and Lawson eventually sold the movie rights to Warner Bros., which made the feature film War Dogs.
Unhappy with his portrayal, Berisha sued Lawson for defamation under Florida law. According to Berisha, he is not associated with the Albanian mafia—or any dangerous group—and Lawson recklessly relied on flimsy sources to contend that he was.
The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lawson. Setting aside questions of truth or falsity, the court simply asked whether Berisha is a “public figure.” Why? Because under this Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, public [*2] figures cannot establish libel without proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with “‘actual malice’”—that is with knowledge that the published material “was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false.” New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U. S. 254, 280, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964); accord, Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U. S. 323, 334-335, 342, 94 S. Ct. 2997, 41 L. Ed. 2d 789 (1974); Curtis Publishing Co. v. Butts, 388 U. S. 130, 155, 87 S. Ct. 1975, 18 L. Ed. 2d 1094 (1967). After concluding that Berisha is a public figure (or at least is one for purposes of Albanian weapons-trafficking stories), the court found that he had not satisfied this high standard. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed.
Berisha now asks this Court to reconsider the “actual malice” requirement as it applies to public figures. As I explained recently, we should. See McKee v. Cosby, 586 U. S. ___, ___, 139 S. Ct. 675, 203 L. Ed. 2d 247, 248 (2019) (opinion concurring in denial of certiorari).
Full case includes Shepard's, Headnotes, Legal Analytics from Lex Machina, and more.
2021 U.S. LEXIS 3588 *; __ S.Ct. __; 2021 WL 2742816
SHKELZEN BERISHA v. GUY LAWSON, ET AL.
Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.
Prior History: [*1] ON PETITION FOR WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE ELEVENTH CIRCUIT
Berisha v. Lawson, 973 F.3d 1304, 2020 U.S. App. LEXIS 27940, 2020 WL 5228847 (11th Cir. Fla., Sept. 2, 2020)
public figure, media, actual malice, falsehoods, defamation, libel, freedom of the press, public official, fact-checking, questions, press