Losing Florida Senate Candidate Files $500 Million Libel Suit

May 7, 2011

Topics: Defamation

Jeff Greene, who was recently routed in his bid to win the Democratic nomination for the open U.S. Senate seat in Florida, has filed a massive -- in more ways than one -- defamation suit against the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald.  The complaint, which was filed on September 1 and checks in at 54 pages, seeks $250 million in compensatory damages and $250 million in punitive damages.

According to the complaint, Greene's claim arises, in part, from a series of stories discussing a real estate deal Greene was involved in.  One of the other parties to the deal has been indicted by a federal grand jury for fraud and money laundering, in part because of aspects of the transaction in question.  Greene alleges that the papers wrongly tied him to the deal despite the fact that he had informed them of the "facts" before they published the stories.

Greene also complains of an article discussing alleged drug use by boxer Mike Tyson on Greene's yacht.  The article was corrected after Tyson made clear that he had never used drugs on Greene's boat.

The most interesting aspect of the lawsuit, however, is Greene's claim for damages.  According to the complaint, before the defamatory articles were published, Greene enjoyed a "comfortable lead" over opponent Kendrick Meek in the race for the Democratic nomination.  After the articles ran, the complaint alleges, "Greene's lead in the polls dropped to a double-digit deficit."  In the end, Greene lost to Meek 57% to 31% (a difference of nearly 250,000 votes).

Greene also claims that his real estate business has been harmed and that the $24 million in personal funds he spent on the race were wasted by the alleged libels.

Greene then applies a multiplier to these damages, alleging that because the two papers (which often ran the same content) both published the allegedly defamatory articles, readers "were mistakenly led to believe that two newspapers were independent sources for false and defamatory reporting which gave greater combined credibility" to the statements.

In other words, because two papers ran the same content separately, Greene suffered greater damages than he would have had the same two papers "individually libeled him."  The basis for this claim is not clear, though it helps explain how Greene came up with compensatory damages of $250 million.

Because Greene was a candidate for public office, he will certainly be considered a public figure, meaning that he will have to establish actual malice.  This is always a high bar for plaintiffs to cross.  Greene will also be challenged to prove that he lost his lead in the polls because of the stories he complains of.  It is hard to imagine how such causation could be proven with any degree of reliability.

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