A bankruptcy judge on Wednesday ruled that a defamation lawsuit over a 2016 Deadspin story should not proceed, handing Gizmodo Media Group and parent company Univision a victory against legal challenges to stories published by former Gawker Media blogs.
The libel complaint on behalf of RJ Bell, a Vegas oddsmaker and founder of the site Pregame.com, came in a response to a Deadspin profile published in June 2016, months before it and other Gawker sites were bought out of bankruptcy by Univision to form Gizmodo Media Group. (Splinter is also part of GMG.)
Filed in New York State Court, the suit did not mention that the terms of the sale shielded Univision from being sued for stories published before the purchase, instead arguing that Bell sought “relief for post-sale conduct.” The implication was that Gizmodo Media Group had somehow re-published the article by keeping it alive on Deadspin.
“This argument is disingenuous,” wrote U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Stuart Bernstein, who’s overseeing Gawker Media’s bankruptcy proceedings.
Bell is represented by Charles Harder, who was also Hulk Hogan’s lawyer in the civil suit that sent Gawker Media into bankruptcy and Gawker.com out of existence last year. In September, Harder also filed a defamation suit against Jezebel for a May 2016 story on a self-help cult. He couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on Wednesday’s decision.
“The ruling by the court today reinforces our belief that this lawsuit brought in State Court was without merit and should not have been brought in the first place,” Gizmodo Media Group spokesperson David Ford said in a statement. “Fearless, rigorous journalism is core to a democratic society and this suit was clearly nothing more than a part of an ongoing attempt by Charles Harder and others to chill strong investigative reporting through personal attacks and intimidation of journalists.”
The judge ordered Harder not to assert any claims against Gizmodo arising from the publication of the allegedly defamatory June 2016 Deadspin article. But he left some daylight for the plaintiffs to pursue in state court “a legally sufficient post-sale claim against Gizmodo based on republication or some other theory.” The lawyer’s suit against Ryan Goldberg, the freelance writer who authored the Bell profile of Deadspin, is ongoing.
“We continue to believe that Ryan Goldberg is also protected by the third-party release and injunction set forth in Gawker’s confirmed Chapter 11 Bankruptcy plan,” Ford continued. “Our company will continue to stand with and support him.”