This week's case study will be served by New York Law School student, Soultana Toskos — PN contributing writer!
Soultana has been assigned to be Cup of Joe's designated hitter and analyze a case about defamation in the context of baseball.
Here it goes. I hope you all like it!
Soultana - Batter Up:
Considering Opening Day was just last week it is only appropriate that in this week’s installment of Cup of Joe with Soul we delve into the realm of baseball!
Imagine this. One day you are a well-regarded umpire for Major League Baseball’s National League, and the next a former player defames your integrity and tarnishes your career with allegations of commercial bribery. Unfortunately, this defamation nightmare became reality for veteran umpire Joseph “Joe” H. West.
What is Defamation, Anyway?
Defamation is the act of making a false statement about another that damages their reputation or causes them special harm. If the plaintiff in a defamation suit is a public figure, they must show by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged offending statements were made with knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth. Joe West’s standing in the sports industry makes him a public figure, so when he brought a lawsuit he bore the burden of proving that he was maliciously slandered on a podcast streamed to thousands of listeners.
In April of 2019, former New York Met’s catcher and four-time All Star Paul Lo Duca, took to Barstool Sports to make false accusations about Joe West.
Lo Duca claimed that during his professional baseball career he had been thrown out of games around fifteen times, eight or nine of which were calls made by West.
Lo Duca then asserted that West called three batters out on strikes to end a regular season match-up between the New York Mets and Philadelphia Phillies in 2006 or 2007. He specified that during that game that he was catching for pitcher Billy Wagner.
Following the same game, Lo Duca recalls Wagner informing him that he had lent West his vintage ’57 Chevy in exchange for a larger strike zone. This statement led Lo Duca’s cohost to remark that Major League Baseball should open an investigation into West.
Challenging Lo Duca’s Play
In his complaint, West states that Lo Duca’s assertions were defamatory, false, and made with reckless disregard for the truth. Contrary to what was shared on the podcast, Lo Duca was ejected from games a total of eight times, only one of which was West’s call. Also, during 2006 and 2007 the Mets and Phillies played one game in which West was the home plate umpire. It turns out Billy Wagner did not pitch at all that day and the game did not end with three strikes, but rather a home run. Lastly, West fully denies having ever accepted bribes in exchange for opening up strike zones or other favors of any kind.
Swing and Miss
Joe West’s legal team made numerous attempts to serve Paul Lo Duca the summons and complaint at his dwelling and place of business, but to no avail. They proceeded to file a motion requesting permission to employ expedient service via an active e-mail address associated with Lo Duca’s Twitter, which the court promptly granted. Although Paul Lo Duca was served on January 29th of this year, he has failed to appear in court and has not yet responded to the complaint. Such disregard and noncompliance prompted West’s counsel to file a motion for default judgment.
Home Run - The Decision:
The key issue before the New York Supreme Court was whether to grant Joe West’s motion for default judgment against Paul Lo Duca. In considering their decision the court asked three questions.
- Was jurisdiction properly established?
- Did the defendant fail to appear?
- Did the plaintiff provide proof of liability that confirms the basic facts upon which the case is based?
Judge Kelley found that West properly established jurisdiction in New York, showed that the defendant failed to appear in court, and provided enough evidence in the complaint to highlight the false and reckless defamatory statements made on a national broadcast. Ultimately, on July 8th Joseph West’s default judgment motion was granted and a date was set to assess damages owed to him by Paul Lo Duca.