“Defendant In Jesse Ventura V. Taya Kyle Cites Mckee V. Laurion Precedent In Her Legal Brief”
The widow of Chris Kyle, author of “American Sniper” and subject of Clint Eastwood’s latest film of the same name, is appealing former Navy SEAL and Minnesota Gov. of Minnesota Jesse Ventura’s successful defamation award against Kyle’s estate. Her brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit cites David McKee MD V. Dennis Laurion as a precedent reference.
In July, Ventura was awarded $1.845 million in an 8-to-2 decision in his favor for claims made by Kyle in American Sniper Ventura says were fabricated and damaging to Ventura’s career and reputation.
Excerpts from brief:
United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
Jesse Ventura a/k/a James G. Janos, Plaintiff-Appellee,
Taya Kyle, as Executor of the Estate of Chris Kyle, Defendant-Appellant.
ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MINNESOTA
Civ. No. 12-cv-472 (RHK/JJK) – District Judge Richard H. Kyle
BRIEF and ADDENDUM of APPELLANT TAYA KYLE,
EXECUTOR OF THE ESTATE OF CHRIS KYLE
FAEGRE BAKER DANIELS LLP
John P. Borger (Minn. #9878)
Charles F. Webber (Minn. #215247)
Leita Walker (Minn. #387095)
90 South Seventh Street, Suite 2200
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402
Telephone: (612) 766-7000
Facsimile: (612) 766-1600
Attorneys for Appellant Taya Kyle,
Executor of the Estate of Chris Kyle
SUMMARY OF CASE AND REQUEST FOR ARGUMENT
Appellant Taya Kyle, executor of the estate of Chris Kyle (collectively “Kyle”), asks this Court to reverse the judgment below awarding Jesse Ventura $500,000 for defamation and $1,345,477.25 for unjust enrichment, all arising from publication of Chris Kyle’s autobiography AMERICAN SNIPER. Independent review of the record evidence establishes that Ventura did not carry his burdens of proving either material falsity or actual malice, which is fatal to his defamation claim. The court’s unjust enrichment award based on allegedly defamatory speech is unprecedented, distorts Minnesota common law, and violates the First Amendment. The judgment, therefore, must be reversed and the case dismissed. At minimum, a new trial is necessary due both to jury instructions that conflict with decisions of this Court and the United States Supreme Court and to the allowance of prejudicial references to insurance culminating in statements by Ventura’s counsel in closing argument that the “insurer is on the hook if you find that Jesse Ventura was defamed.
This Court should reverse the defamation judgment because the district court incorrectly instructed the jury with respect to both the questions of whether the statements at issue were materially false and whether Kyle published them with actual malice. Although instructional error would normally call for a new trial, the First Amendment requires an appellate court to examine the record independently and enter judgment for the defendant where, as here, no properly instructed jury could have found defamation liability. See Sullivan, 376 U.S. at 285.
. . .
Ventura’s Burden to Establish Material Falsity
The district court erred by instructing the jury it could find liability based on the “story.” The district court erred when, responding to an inquiry, it instructed the jury it could impose defamation liability based on the entirety of the “story” Kyle told about Ventura, rather than explaining that its original instruction required Ventura to prove all of the elements of his defamation claim with respect to at least one of the three specific statements at issue.
A jury instruction is erroneous if it misstates the law. Wolfe v. Fayetteville, Ark. Sch. Dist., 648 F.3d 860, 864 (8th Cir. 2011). To establish a defamation claim, a plaintiff must prove, inter alia, that a specific statement is both defamatory and false in some material respect. McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d 725, 729 – 30 (Minn. 2013). * In addition, the First Amendment requires a public figure such as Ventura to prove that such a statement was published with actual malice. Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 327-28 (1974).
The Supreme Court, this Court, and the Minnesota Supreme Court have all left no doubt that, to sustain a defamation claim with respect to a group of allegedly false and defamatory statements, a plaintiff must prove each of the elements of his cause of action with respect to each such statement for which he hopes to recover damages. See, e.g., Air Wis., 134 S. Ct. at 864-65 (evaluating individually each of several challenged statements); Masson v. New Yorker Magazine, 501 U.S. 496, 502, 522-25 (1991) (excluding from potential liability challenged statements that were not actionable and evaluating remaining statements individually); Stepnes v. Ritschel, 663 F.3d 952, 964-65 (8th Cir. 2011) (same); Aviation Charter, 416 F.3d at 868-71 (“We begin by parsing the seven allegedly defamatory statements.”); Michaelis v. CBS Inc., 119 F.3d 697, 700-03 (8th Cir. 1997); Price v. Viking Penguin, 881 F.2d 1426, 1429 (8th Cir. 1989); McKee v. Laurion, 825 N.W.2d at 729-30. *
* Emphasis added