How Cosby won defamation case
Attorney Joe Richardson with Legal Learning on a move by Cosby lawyers commonly made before the plaintiff gets their 'day in court'
Attorneys for Cosby used a legal move commonly made before the plaintiff gets their ‘day in court’
In Federal court in Pennsylvania, a judge dismissed the three claims against Bill Cosby brought by Renita Hill, who alleged that Cosby and his attorney defamed her in the media related to her claims that Cosby raped her. Hill was one out of eight accusers that filed defamation in October 2015, charging that their reputations had been damaged after Cosby called them liars and extortionists.
On motion of Cosby, Judge Arthur Schwab ruled that the statements “do not support a claim for defamation as defined by Pennsylvania law” and said the claims were “pure opinion” and a “far cry from labeling [Hill] (and the other women who have made similar accusations) as liars or extortionists.”
Cosby wins civil case on early dispositive motion
In this case, Cosby’s attorneys took advantage of the opportunity to file an early dispositive motion, which is a frequent maneuver in such cases. Once a civil lawsuit is filed, there are several points at which a case may be delayed or dismissed entirely before the plaintiff gets their “day in court” at trial. Dispositive motions (key word: dispose) can effectively quash service, making the plaintiff do it over again, or deny jurisdiction over a defendant for one reason or another. Demurrers in state court force the plaintiff to go “back to the drawing board” and redraft certain causes of action.
The ‘So What?’ move
The federal equivalent of the Demurrer (which is what Cosby filed) is the Motion to Dismiss. I like to call these the “So What?” motions. The Court assumes that the facts as pled are true for purposes of the motion, and the defendant, through the motion, is effectively saying “So What?”
In a negligence case, the elements to be alleged and proven are duty, breach, causation, and damages. If the allegations stated don’t show those elements, then the “So What?” motion makes the plaintiff redraft the cause of action, or maybe lose the case entirely because the cause of action cannot be repaired. In this case, Cosby’s argument was that the statements the plaintiff’s claims were made do not amount to defamation, which has its own elements under Pennsylvania law. Therefore, even if all of the allegations are true, there is still no cause of action stated, hence the plaintiff loses.
These tests at the pleading stage confirm that the pleading is proper. Proof of the case is a separate matter and the “hard part.” Therefore, there is no guarantee that this plaintiff would have won this case even if the Motion to Dismiss had not been granted. While this has no bearing on the criminal case, it is a welcome development for the embattled comedian.
Sixty individuals are accusing Cosby of sexual misconduct. And, in late December, a 2004 sexual assault case was reopened. He is currently free on a million-dollar bail. Cosby’s next criminal court date is February 2nd. – the editors