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Coleman v. Grand

Post categories

  1. Libel and Privacy

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit

Date Filed: Oct. 13, 2021

Background: In 2018, prominent jazz musician Steven Douglas Coleman sued aspiring jazz musician Maria Kim Grand for defamation in response to a letter Grand wrote and sent to roughly 40 of her friends and industry colleagues in 2017 about her relationship with Coleman and her concerns about sexism in the music industry.

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York awarded summary judgment to Grand, applying the “actual malice” fault standard under the state’s recently amended anti-SLAPP law. The court found that Coleman failed to provide evidence that Grand acted with actual malice (i.e., that she made a false statement with knowledge that it was false, or with “reckless disregard” for whether it was false or not). The court also found that Grand’s statements were protected opinions that are not actionable in defamation.

Coleman appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing that New York’s anti-SLAPP law should not apply in federal court, and that Grand’s statements concerned “purely private matters.”

Our Position: The Second Circuit should affirm the district court’s award of summary judgment to Grand.

  • The actual malice fault standard under New York’s anti-SLAPP law applies in federal court.
  • Grand’s statements were made in connection with a matter of public interest and therefore fall within the scope of New York’s anti-SLAPP law.
  • Grand’s statements are not actionable in defamation because they are statements of opinion that cannot be proven true or false.

Quote: “Faced with the threat of potential civil liability, individuals impacted by sexual harassment or misconduct in the workplace may choose not to share their subjective, personal experiences with the news media, thus depriving the public of meaningful discourse on a matter of vital concern.”

Related: Reporters Committee attorneys have previously filed friend-of-the-court briefs in cases concerning whether state anti-SLAPP laws apply in federal court, including in Tah v. Global Witness Publishing.

The Reporters Committee has also filed friend-of-the-court briefs in cases concerning the actual malice fault standard, including in Gottwald (Dr. Luke) v. Sebert (Kesha). To learn more about the actual malice standard through the lens of Dr. Luke’s legal dispute with the pop star, check out our blog post about the case.