Fox News Wins Dismissal Of Michael Avenatti’s Defamation Claim

A federal judge has tossed attorney Michael Avenatti’s defamation lawsuit against Fox News over its coverage of his 2018 arrest on suspicion of domestic violence.

Avenatti, whose representation of Stormy Daniels made him a ubiquitous media presence as a pugnacious foe of President Donald Trump, was recently sentenced to 30 months in prison on charges that he plotted to extort Nike in a separate case. A trial was started last month on charges that he embezzled funds from clients, which he has denied.

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In his opinion (read it here), U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas wrote that in 2018, “Fox News covered his arrest. He sued, claiming that its reporting defamed him. But most of its statements were substantially true. And Avenatti does not plausibly plead that Fox or its employees knew that the statements were false or recklessly disregarded that possibility. He also fails to allege any recoverable damages.”

The domestic violence claims came from an ex girlfriend, Mareli Miniutti, but the Los Angeles District Attorney and Los Angeles City Attorney declined to file charges. Avenatti had denied the claims.

Avenatti claimed in his defamation suit that the network “lied” about the details of his arrest, as Bibas put it, including that it reported that he was charged with domestic violence and that his estranged wife filed a complaint.

The judge, though, said that some of the statements made about his arrest — like Laura Ingraham joking that he had a “heck of a right hook” — were opinion, not facts.

As for Avenatti’s contention that he was arrested but not charged, a distinction in the law, Bibas said that it was a “minor error.”

“Avenatti was not merely accused—he was arrested and taken into custody,” Bibas wrote. “Police are supposed to [have] good reason to arrest people. So to the average reader, the ‘gist’ and the ‘sting’ would be the same had Defendants reported only that he was arrested for suspected domestic violence.” Bibas also dismissed Avenatti’s other claims that Fox News knowingly lied about other details.

He wrote that Avenatti “has not shown that Defendants knew, or deliberately ignored, any inaccuracies in their reporting.”

The network, represented by Eric George of Browne George Ross O’Brien Annaguey & Ellis, said via a spokesperson, “We are pleased with the Court’s swift decision in favor of FOX News. Today’s ruling is a victory for journalists everywhere, who should not be intimidated into silence when bullies like Michael Avenatti file baseless multimillion-dollar lawsuits.”

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