|Pras (right), with fellow members of the Fugees,|
Lauryn Hill and Wyclef Jean
Hearst Corporation, publisher of the Marie Claire fashion magazine that defamed me in an article about Alabama GOP operative Jessica Medeiros Garrison, is one of several defendants to resort to this trick -- no matter how absurd it sounds. Hearst cites a case styled Michel v. NYP Holdings, 816 F. 3d 686 - Court of Appeals, 11th Circuit 2016, which revolves around "the well-known rapper and philanthropist Prakazrel ("Pras") Michel." Court documents go on to describe Michel as "a Grammy-winning artist and founding member of the music group the Fugees, who currently engages in a series of philanthropic and business ventures."
How famous are Pras and the music group he founded. This is from Pras' Wikipedia page:
Pras (/ˈprɑːz/; born Prakazrel Samuel Michel; October 19, 1972) is an American rapper, record producer, songwriter and actor, best known as one of the founding members of the critically acclaimed hip hop group, the Fugees, which included Wyclef Jean and recording artist Lauryn Hill.
Even I, as white as I am, have heard of Wyclef Jean and Lauryn Hill, and I know they are world-famous artists, along with Pras and the Fugees. Rolling Stone, in 1996, called the Fugees "Leaders of the New Cool." They have played The Apollo in New York City, drawing a crowd of more than 10,000. MTV ranked them the ninth-best hip-hop group of all time, even though they recorded only two albums.
And I, with my little Alabama-based blog, is supposed to compare with these folks in terms of notoriety -- in terms of being a public figure? That's nuts,
Why does the public-figure designation matter in a defamation case. It forces the plaintiff to prove that the false article was published with "actual malice," meaning the publisher knew in advance it was false.
Here's how I responded to the assertions in Hearst's Motion to Dismiss. (Both the Hearst motion and my response are embedded at the end of this post.)
Hearst cites Michel v. NYP Holdings, 816 F. 3d 686 (11th Cir., 2016), which is based on New York state defamation law, which is non-binding in this case. That case also involved a plaintiff who was described thusly: “[Michel] describes himself in his complaint as ‘a two-time Grammy winning artist, a founding member of the famous music group, the Fugees, and . . . an acclaimed philanthropist.’ And in subsequent court documents, he describes himself as a ‘world-renown[ed] philanthropist.’ Moreover, at oral argument before the district court, Michel's attorney conceded that his client ‘is a celebrity, he's a public figure.’" This was the basis for a finding that Michel was a public figure. But to claim Roger Shuler, because of his Alabama-based blog, is on the same level as a “two-time Grammy winner,” “a world-renowned philanthropist,” and a “celebrity” . . . well, it’s nonsense. If the court somehow determines this is a close call, it must find in favor of the nonmoving party (Shuler). Here, Hearst admits the Shulers pleaded malice anyway, “knowing the statements in question were false.”