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Stern v. Cosby

United States District Court for the Southern District of New York

August 12, 2009, Decided; August 12, 2009, Filed

07 Civ. 8536 (DC)

Opinion

 [*263]  CHIN, District Judge

In this libel case, plaintiff Howard K. Stern, the former lawyer for and companion of the late Anna Nicole Smith, sues defendants Rita Cosby and Hachette Book Group USA, Inc. ("Hachette"), the author and publisher, respectively, of the best-selling book Blonde  [**2] Ambition: The Untold Story Behind Anna Nicole Smith's Death (the "Book"). Stern contends that defendants defamed him in the Book by falsely stating or suggesting, among other things, that he had engaged in sex with the father of Smith's child, "pimped" Smith to as many as fifty men a year, and played a role in Smith's death.

 [*264]  Cosby and Hachette deny that they have libeled Stern. First, they argue that Stern is "libel-proof" -- that is, they contend that his reputation is already so bad that it cannot be further damaged. Second, they contend that the statements in question are not defamatory, and argue in particular that, in this day and age, statements suggesting that someone is homosexual are no longer libelous per se, as they no longer connote shame, contempt, or ridicule. Third, they argue that Stern has failed to present evidence from which a jury could find that they acted with actual malice.

Before the Court are defendants' motions for summary judgment. For the reasons set forth below, I conclude that a reasonable jury could find that Cosby, but not Hachette, is liable for defamation for certain of the statements in the Book. Accordingly, Hachette's motion is granted and Cosby's  [**3] motion is granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

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645 F. Supp. 2d 258 *; 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 70912 **; 54 A.L.R.6th 725; 37 Media L. Rep. 2288

HOWARD K. STERN, Plaintiff, - against - RITA COSBY, HACHETTE BOOK GROUP USA, INC. d/b/a Grand Central Publishing, and JOHN OR JANE DOE, Defendants.

Subsequent History: Reconsideration denied by Stern v. Cosby, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90865 (S.D.N.Y., Sept. 25, 2009)

Prior History: Stern v. Cosby, 529 F. Supp. 2d 417, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 92914 (S.D.N.Y., 2007)

CORE TERMS

actual malice, reasonable jury, homosexuality, sex, libel-proof, damages, summary judgment motion, defamatory, reputation, publisher, impute, accusations, summary judgment, reckless, argues, pimped, libel, inherently improbable, defamatory per se, Entertainment, allegations, defamation, lesbians, declaration, incremental, marriage, reasons, media, contempt, clear and convincing evidence

Civil Procedure, Summary Judgment, Supporting Materials, General Overview, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Scope, Evidence, Inferences & Presumptions, Presumptions, Governments, Courts, Court Records, Opposing Materials, Accompanying Documentation, Affidavits, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Need for Trial, Judgments, Evidentiary Considerations, Burdens of Proof, Nonmovant Persuasion & Proof, Torts, Defamation, Defenses, Trials, Jury Trials, Province of Court & Jury, Intentional Torts, Procedural Matters, Defamation Per Se, Libel, Allocation, Clear & Convincing Proof, Elements, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Erie Doctrine, Truth, Remedies, Damages, Punitive Damages, Damages, Punitive Damages, Availability