U.S. Ninth Circuit - The FindLaw 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries Blog

Porn Star's Libel Suit Survives Dismissal at the Ninth Circuit

The Ninth Circuit greenlit a defamation lawsuit brought against the British tabloid Daily Mail Online by the former soft-core porn model Danni Ashe.

It's a bit of a victory for those "public figures" who generally fight an uphill battle with regards to defamation suits.

False Light for HIV Story

The plaintiff is Leah Manzari, who earned fame as the soft-core porn star Danni Ashe. She sold nude images of herself for about a decade from the middle of the 90s to about 2004. Her images earned her millions of dollars and made her one of the most celebrated soft-core porn actresses in the world.

In 2013, Daily Mail ran a story featuring one of Manzari's images showing her posing provocatively on a bed with the words "In Bed With Danni" in bold neon lettering; and the caption "Moratorium: The porn industry in California was shocked on Wednesday by the announcement that a performer had tested HIV positive." Manzari sued claiming false light.

SLAPP Issues

After responding to her cease-and-desist, Manzari sought $3,000,000 in damages, which the defending party sought to kill with California's Anti-SLAPP statutes, arguing an important public concern.

The court recognized that public figures often have a higher bar to clear in order to meet a prima facie case of defamation -- the principal feature being "actual malice." Additionally, and very importantly, California law requires that a publication must also be reasonably understood by the public to imply a defamatory statement and that the publishing party acted with "reckless disregard." The court found both elements were met and that the defamatory statement reasonable implied that Manzari was afflicted with a venereal disease.

Roundabout Reasoning

The court dismissed Daily Mail's unbelievable claim of innocence that it did not intend to make a connection for the reasonable public. But such an argument could not be entertained. If that were the case, the court said, all defamation cases would fail.

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