BETTER ASK A LAWYER-TYPE: Defamation Edition!

Because the absurdity engulfing Ryan Braun needed another level of preposterousness, we learned this week that Braun’s being sued in Milwaukee County court by a fella who claims to be a (former) lifelong friend.

Because Paul and I have nothing better to do with our law degrees, we’ve endeavored to answer all your questions about the ins and outs of a defamation lawsuit, and this defamation lawsuit in particular, in our latest and greatest edition of BETTER ASK A LAWYER-TYPE.

OK, let’s get down to the basics. What’s a defamation lawsuit?

“Defamation” is our legal term for the concept of “you said something nasty and untrue about me to somebody else, and now people think less of me as a result.” (It’s taken from the Latin term “defamo,” meaning “to talk shit about.”) If somebody says something that’s not true and damages your reputation, you can ask a court to make that person give you money. Neat, right?

This sounds like a fun idea. Who can I sue? Can I sue the kids in elementary school who called me skunk-boy?

The most fun thing about the legal system is that you can sue anyone for anything! But you probably won’t have much luck suing your boyhood chums. For one thing, opinions are not actionable. “I saw Rubie having sex with a skunk” is actionable, because that’s a statement of fact. “I think Rubie smells like a skunk” probably isn’t, because that’s, like, your opinion, man.

So what’s this Ralph Sasson guy saying that Braun did to defame him, then? I read something that said he’s claiming that Braun’s people hired him to dig up dirt on the dude who kept Braun’s pee in his basement for two days, and then Braun tried to stiff him on the tab.

That’s in the lawsuit, but it’s apparently provided by way of background, because Sasson isn’t suing Braun for breach of contract — and, by the by, re: that background: Sasson says, back in 2011, he gets a call from Braun’s agent asking him to look into the background of an unspecified player who’d tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs, only he didn’t know it was Braun at the time and only found that out later, and let’s stop right there for a second because

WHAT THE FUCK?

This high-powered agent for very, very rich baseball players reaches out to a dude living in Milwaukee with no apparent training as a private investigator who describes himself as a law student (more on that later) to do recon on one of those very, very rich baseball players, and (1) dude doesn’t realize immediately it’s Braun?, and (2) for emphasis’ sake, what the hell?

Anyway, back to the point — Sasson isn’t suing Braun for not paying up on those background checks, because, according to Sasson, Braun ultimately (and begrudgingly) did, but because after that, Braun was allegedly telling people that he and Sasson weren’t friends anymore because Sasson was rude to staff at Miller Park and was, and I quote, “crazy.” Those comments, says Sasson, weren’t true, and his reputation has suffered as a result.

His reputation with whom, exactly?

Well, that’s one of the delightful parts of this utterly delightful suit: Sasson says Braun’s allegedly untrue statements were made not only to Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and Packers demigod Aaron Rodgers (two people who, I suspect, couldn’t pick Ralph Sasson out of a lineup and probably didn’t have an opinion about his reputation in the first place, but that’s a separate issue), but also to members of Braun’s family — his mom and dad, and his brother — and Braun’s fiance.

Hold up: he’s suing Braun because Braun told Braun’s mom that he was crazy?

Yep. In a nutshell, part of the damage Sasson is claiming is that Ryan Braun’s mom now thinks he’s a nutbag who acts like a dick to people at a baseball stadium.

But …

I know. Don’t think too hard about it. Let’s move on to something else.

Alright. So Sasson’s made his allegations in the complaint. What are his prospects for success? How hard is it to win a defamation suit?

About the same as getting through the Quickman stage in Megaman 2 on the first try without stopping time. (Related: telling someone “Rubie’s nickname in college was Quickman” is most definitely grounds for a defamation lawsuit.)

Whoa. That’s hard.

And it’s potentially harder than that. In your standard-issue defamation case, the plaintiff — the defamed — has to prove only a couple things: that the defendant — the defamer — made the statement in question, and that the plaintiff’s reputation suffered as a result, because the law gives the plaintiff a couple of assists. For one, it’s presumed that the statement that was made is false. (You’ve heard the saying: “The truth is an absolute defense”? This is where that saying comes from: if the defendant can show that his statement was true, the plaintiff can’t recover.) For another, the plaintiff doesn’t have to prove that the defendant knew what he was saying wasn’t true. It’s enough that the defendant made the statement, it wasn’t true, and the plaintiff’s reputation was harmed.

Now, that’s the standard-issue case. There’s a whole ‘nother — and wholly more onerous — set of rules for matters involving statements about public officials or subjects of public interest, but you’re probably not that interested in reading about that and I’m not altogether keen on rehashing the Supreme Court’s (probably ill-fated) decision to wade into this particular area of law. Suffice it to say: if the statement in question is about a public figure or a subject of public interest, the plaintiff also has to prove (1) that the statement was false, and (2) that the defendant knew the statement was false or made the statement in reckless disregard of the truth.

Would those rules apply to Sasson’s case? He certainly doesn’t qualify as a public figure, and while Braun’s PED imbroglio has certainly been in the spotlight for months, the statements being complained about — that Sasson was a jerk to staff at Miller Park, or is crazy — are only related tangentially to all that drama. Still: it’s a long, hard road in a defamation case, whether the statement concerns a matter of public interest or not.

So, wait. Let me make sure I understand this. Braun can win the case if he proves that Sasson was rude to the vendors at Miller Park? Like, will that be part of any trial?

One of the fun — and by “fun” we mean “crap-your-pants-level terrifying” — parts of any defamation case is that you have to be willing to expose all of your dirty laundry. It’s sort of a catch-22 in that the defamed often ends up making the situation much worse. In this instance it’s entirely possible that, should this case go to trial (and it won’t), Ryan Braun could find some vendor who thought the guy was rude and Sasson might end up with the story of how he ordered three Lites when you can only order two at a time, and only tipped a quarter, and told the vendor he had an ugly hat and stupid shoes. This is one of my favorite parts of any defamation trial. (I’d also say that “rude” is a matter of opinion. Like crazy.)

But what about “crazy”?

Well, “crazy” is an interesting word. 99% of the time something like that is going to fall into the realm of “opinion” and an opinion, not being a statement of fact, is not actionable. Crazy is mostly used in the hyperbolic sense. If Braun had told his dad that Sasson was, like, clinically crazy and Braun’s dad was a psychiatrist and they drugged Sasson and committed him and he ended up lobotomized like in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (spoilers! Also: Chief is a boss) he might have a defamation case. But a standard, every day “you so crazy” isn’t really what we’re looking for here.

What’s the deal with these “requests to admit” that Sasson submitted with his lawsuit?

In a civil case, when you don’t have to worry as much about someone’s pesky constitutional rights, courts try to encourage the parties to get down to the nub of the dispute as best they can. So, in civil cases, you have things like requests to admit, where you try to eliminate areas where there aren’t dispute so you can focus on the areas where there are. For example, in a hypothetical car accident case, you might ask the other party to admit to the road conditions, or what time of day the accident happened, or that your medical bills are reasonable.

The requests to admit that Sasson sent to Braun are … well, they’re a little unusual. According to the Journal Sentinel, Sasson has asked Braun to admit that he was ‘roided up as far back as his days at the U, that he cheated academically at Miami, that he lied to Rodgers about using PEDs, and, perhaps most entertainingly, that Braun’s been humpin’ around on his fiance and that he’s been humpin’ around on each and every one of lady friends dating back to high school. What, exactly, that has to do with Braun allegedly telling people that Sasson is wacko I’m not sure, and I’d bet Braun’s attorneys will point that out.

And while we’re talking about attorneys: you’ll see repeated references in the lawsuit that Sasson’s proceeding pro se, that is, without the assistance of legal counsel. In general, unless you’re filing a case in small claims court, this is a very bad idea. Pro se litigants are obligated to follow the same court rules, rules of evidence, etc., that attorneys are bound to follow, and when you don’t have an attorney on a case like this, you end up doing things like issuing requests to admit that ask Braun to acknowledge he tested positive for “steroids,” or using vague, undefined words like “amorous relationships,” or making reference over and over to a non-disclosure agreement (that Sasson was allegedly forced to sign) without attaching a copy of that non-disclosure agreement to the complaint.

What’s the most unintentionally hysterical line in the Journal Sentinel article about Sasson’s lawsuit?

I’m so glad you asked this. Near the end of the article is this line:

“Sasson, who says he is a law student…”

How great is that? Most of the time, when a reporter includes that parenthetical explanation of what a person does for a living, they’ll go: “Rubie, a cumquat farmer and amateur blogger, ate twelve tacos…” But the furthest the Journal Sentinel is willing to go with this cat is that he says he’s a law student, like they’re not even going to bother to take the two minutes to confirm with the Taft Law School (which is apparently a thing) that Sasson is studying there. Instead, they’re all: “That’s what dude says. I dunno, you figure it out.”

Huh. This almost seems like a bit of convenient piling-on by a dude whose gravy train left the station.

That’s certainly one way to read this filing. But at the same time, given everything that’s happened in the last few months, having everything that’s alleged in this suit turn out to be true would be like the fourth-most shocking event in this neverending whirlwind of nonsense.

15 thoughts on “BETTER ASK A LAWYER-TYPE: Defamation Edition!

  1. 1) Very entertaining writing.
    2) Judging from your article, you didn’t read the lawsuit. Sasson never claimed that Braun defamed him to Rodgers or Attanasio, but defamed him to their mutual friends with the intention of alienating Sasson from his peer group. In other words, no one wanted to have anything to do with Sasson after Braun supposedly made this story up. Regardless of Sasson’s background or reputation, if his allegations prove true, then Sasson suffered.
    3) Do you really think anyone is willing to lie for Braun any further? Especially anyone who works for the Brewers?
    4) Instead of pontificating on how this guys requests for admissions are irrelevant, you should probably do some reading. Had you done so, you would understand that the propensity exclusion is waived in cases involving defamation. This means that Sasson is trying to establish that not only does Braun have a propensity to lie, but he lies about EVERYTHING. That’s all Sasson needs.
    5) From reading the complaint, I would have to say that not only is this guy a law student, but a pretty damn good one. I’ve been practicing for 13 years and I think he may write better than me.
    6) This case will go to trial and if it does, Sasson will probably lose – he’s never tried a case before a jury, but judging from the way he writes, his allegations, and what he seems to know about Braun, it wouldn’t shock me if he won either.

  2. I’m pretty sure badgernoonan is either a lawyer who never took the bar (which is okay if you went to law school in Wisconsin), or he is lying. This Sasson character has a case. Its really great how everyone comes out and attacks this guy. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The kid’s writing is good. Really good. How is my analysis backwards badgernoonan? You make these blanket statements concerning my legal analysis, yet fail to go into any details. If you had any idea what you’re talking about badger, you’d know that statements of opinion which imply a basis in verifiable fact ARE ACTIONABLE. In this situation, Braun said that Sasson was rude to staff at Miller Park and that based on this occurrence, Sasson had been acting like an ass. The first statement, if Braun can’t prove its basis in truth, is defamation.

    As for the damage to Sasson’s reputation, Wisconsin requires that one only prove special damages to recover. What those special damages are, I don’t know. Sasson didn’t plead with specificity. In fact, he didn’t even ask for them. On that basis, the slander claim will be dismissed. The libel claim, however, will still stand. Now, as far as damage to Sasson’s reputation, he alleges Braun’s statements isolated Sasson from his peer group. That is enough.

    So, badger, please elaborate on how my legal analysis is backward.

  3. Oh, and badgernoonan, I thought you said you read the Complaint. If you read it, how the hell did you not see the examples of defamatory statements made by Braun? You say you read it, its garbage, and then go on to cite the media’s mention of what Sasson claimed to be defamatory. You’re contradicting yourself man. I like this kid’s gusto. I like his writing. He’s got some pretty big balls. So, tell me, what exactly makes the Complaint “garbage”? I’d like to hear this. Maybe I’m just biased in favor of the kid because I think Braun is a POS. But I’d like your analysis on what’s wrong with the complaint other than Sasson’s failure to plead special damages (although one could consider his allegation of “costs and expenses” a claim of pecuniary damages) on the slander claim.

  4. Where to even begin.

    There is exactly one statement in the complaint that is debatably actionable. That being that “Braun had received word that complaints had been filed due to Sasson’s abhorrent behavior” re: being rude to staff at Miller Park. That he acted like an ass or was crazy, to the extent that they are “statements of opinion which imply a basis in verifiable fact”, are merely restatements of said verifiable fact. Put succinctly, if they are related to his alleged rudeness, they still constitute a single allegation (Guy was rude to Miller park people because he’s a crazy asshole). If they’re separate allegations, which is a plausible reading due to poor writing) then they’re non-actionable statements of opinions. (dude was rude to those Miller Park, also, is crazy, also, an ass.)

    Statements of opinion which imply a basis in verifiable fact often look sort of like, “It’s my opinion that you cheat on your wife.” That kind of thing. Fact is there’s only one actionable statement here regardless of how you gussy it up.

    We should deal with the propensity exclusion. Your statement that the propensity exclusion is waived in defamation claims is correct, but everything else on point 4 is just wrong. As you must know, truth is an absolute defense in a defamation claim. The statement at issue, that Braun told some mutual friends that Sasso was rude to Miller Park employees, might be actionable (I mean, we can get into more detail about “rude” as an opinion or the allegation that Braun just said “he heard”). Let’s assume that it is. You seem to be saying that if Sasso can prove that Braun is a generally a liar he’ll win, and that he can introduce character evidence to show that Braun has a propensity to lie. I don’t think anyone would argue that Braun isn’t a big smelly liar, but that’s not typically how the propensity exclusion works in defamation cases.

    Typically the plaintiff claims that a factual statement was defamatory. Should we actually get to this point, Defendant may assert as a defense that the statement was true. Here that would constitute proving that Sasso was rude to Miller Park staff. This is where we get to the propensity exclusion. Braun could introduce evidence that Sasso is rude to service industry personnel. He could find instances of bad tipping at Miller Park and elsewhere. Or just instances of rudeness. He could, in short, introduce character evidence that Sasso has a propensity to be rude. That is typically how the propensity exclusion waiver enters such a claim.

    Perhaps most importantly, not being an attorney on this matter I can opine as to a few other things. If my friends all shunned me because some dude told them I was rude to the staff, I’d probably want new friends. And when I see someone suing in a scenario like this, I assume they’re gunning for a nuisance value settlement and a book deal.

  5. Badger, you may or may not be right about Sasson’s motives. But he also sued him for fraud as well. I’m sure Sasson probably does want new friends and if these people really shunned him because Braun told them this story, then they probably weren’t his friends to begin with. That being said, I don’t think that is arguable. Or maybe it is.

    As for the propensity exclusion, I believe it may have some value for Sasson in showing that Braun is an unmitigated liar in everything he does. If Braun has a propensity to lie, then it goes toward proving malice (which is an element of Sasson’s claim). Furthermore, let’s say the propensity exclusion was in play (which it isn’t), Sasson could use habit evidence to establish that Braun has a habit of lying. Also, Sasson could use evidence of Braun’s lying to show motive. What that motive is, I can only guess. My guess is that Sasson is going to be able to show that Braun lies because he gets a thrill out of it – the lying and getting one over on people gives Braun some kind of rush. The same way a serial killer cums his pants when he kills old women, Braun cums his pants when he lies. That means Braun has been doing an awful lot of cumming. Absence of mistake is also another way Sasson could argue that Braun has to answer those requests for admission. Badger, I think you’re neglecting how important Sasson’s allegation that Braun is a liar is – it is an essential element of his case – even if Braun is not using truth as a defense. Therefore, past evidence of Braun’s lies go to prove that, all things being equal, Braun is an unmitigated liar. Moreover, not do Sasson’s questions go toward Braun’s propensity to lie, but Braun’s propensity to lie, have knowledge that he’s lying, and to do so with the intention of furthering his own position at the expense of others.

    Here’s the other thing Sasson would’ve been wise to do: Add a breach of K claim. If he added the breach of K claim, a lot of the arguments concerning the relevance of the use of steroids in college, the signing his MLB contract under false pretenses, and his acceptance of money as an amateur all go towards Braun’s habit of not giving a shit about the rules. Habit evidence isn’t used to show that Braun has a habit of breach contracts, but rather, that Braun has a recurring ritual of breaking the rules.

    Finally, if Braun is being called as a witness by Sasson (which I would have to imagine he is), the answers to the requests for admission will help Sasson’s goal of impeachment. The best part about Sasson’s pro se status is that if he calls Braun as a witness, he may ask leading questions on direct. This would make great theatre, wouldn’t you agree?

  6. Braun definitely is a sociopath. Why don’t you get off his dick already cwolf? Why are you guys so infatuated with this cocksucker. He wouldn’t piss on your face if your nose was on fire. He swings a bat for a living. He’s scum. At least his friend has the intelligence to engage in seeking redress through the courts. Misguided or inexperienced as the kid may be, he’s doing it the right way and his claims will survive a motion to dismiss at the very least.

  7. Looks like you morons were all wrong about this case and the most important claims DIDN’T get thrown out. Perhaps whoever wrote this “article” should spend more time reading the law and not blogging about Ryan Braun. The fact of the matter is that if you were any good at being a lawyer, you wouldn’t have time to be blogging, you putz.

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