Christian Schinbeckler Case Brief Lott vs. Levitt TCOM 384 Caristi 556 F.3d 564 United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit. John R. LOTT, Jr., Plaintiff–Appellant, v. Steven D. LEVITT, Defendant–Appellee. No. 07–3095. Argued Oct. 21, 2008.Decided Feb. 11, 2009.Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc Denied March 11, 2009.* Lott (economist) vs. Levitt (author and publisher of “Freakonomics”) Procedural History Economist sues publisher for defamation Court dismisses claim of defamation Economist makes a second defamation claim based on an email exchange between publisher and other economist (unnamed in case) Publisher aims to dismiss second defamation case Court upholds that the allegations made in the email stated a claim for defamation Issue Author and Publisher (Levitt) writes in his book “Freakonomics” that economist (Lott) had been alleged to have invented some of the date that supported his theory of more-guns/less-crime. Economist (Lott) sees those sentences as an accusation amounting to the idea that he falsified his results Facts Economist Lott argues that failure for others to replicate his data doesn’t mean his falsified his results, claims the word “replicate” has a clear and unambiguous meaning Publisher and Author Levitt argues that the statements are not defamatory and were otherwise protected by the First Amendment Levitt attaches copy of book to their motions of dismissal, arguing the book is central to Lott’s claims. This allows the paragraph written about Lott to be put in context with the rest of the page and book instead of singling the paragraph out Legal Issues Matters of Substance (Sole reliance of Illinois to make determination of case) Nature and Elements of defamation in general Presumption as to damage; special damages (must show that the unprivileged communication of a false statement caused the economist harm) Words Tending to Injure in Profession or Business Words Imputing Unfitness for or Misconduct or Criminal Acts in Office or Employment Actionable Words in General Construction of language used (key in case as part of Lott’s argument centered around the connotation of the word “replicate”) Authors and newspapers (statement could have been read to mean that other scholars tired to reach the same conclusion, but could not) Presumption as to damage; special damages (economist was unable to prove any special damages, required by Illinois law to assert a pro quod defamation claim) (Fed.Rules Civ.Proc.Rule 9(g), 28 U.S.C.A.) Court’s Decision Court dismissed economist defamation claim after concluding that the statements could reasonably be read as a description of an academic dispute regarding controversial theories, not an accusation of academic dishonesty. Author and Publisher sought to dismiss the count of the email exchange, but the court concluded that those allegations stated a claim for defamation (the remaining settlement between the economist and the author/publisher was settled out of court) Rationale The court argued that economist Lott was unable to prove the passage in Levitt’s book caused him actual harm The court defined “replicate” as having a broader meaning stretching beyond the realm of academia for the broadly appealing book “Freakonomics” The court also concluded that words like “troubling” and the notion that Levitt claims Lott’s theory is both “sensible” and “intriguing”, lead the court to claim that Lott was more complaining about the attack on his ideas than he was complaining about the attack on his character Implications It often in writing that one professional questions either the method or the facts obtained by other professionals. Any of this work could be construed by the original creators of those methods to be defamation simply because they don’t like what is being said about them. People such as Lott are now being told that just because you don’t like what someone says about your work or your results doesn’t mean they have brought shame upon your character or damaged your reputation. Without any provable harm, harsh words and criticism of another’s work will continued to be viewed in the eyes of the court as fair play.