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'American Hustle' Producers Sued by Journalist; Defamation Alleged

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By Daniel Taylor, Esq. on November 04, 2014 12:02 PM

A minor scene in last year's critically acclaimed film "American Hustle" has one science writer majorly upset.

Journalist Paul Brodeur claims that a scene in the movie that mentions him by name has harmed his reputation by tying him to a "scientifically unsupportable statement," reports ABC News. Brodeur has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the film's producers, including Columbia Pictures, alleging defamation.

What is the scene that led to the lawsuit, and what will Brodeur need to prove in order to succeed?

'Microwave' Scene

The scene at the center of the lawsuit features an argument between actress Jennifer Lawrence and her on-screen husband, actor Christian Bale. In the scene, Lawrence complains about the microwave brought home by Bale. "I read that it takes all the nutrition out of our food," Lawrence says, handing Bale a magazine. "I read it in an article, look, by Paul Brodeur."

Brodeur, a well-known investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, has written previously about the dangers of microwaves. But Brodeur claims that he has never made statements like the statement attributed to him in the film. In his complaint, says he has actually "publicly stated the opposite."

Defamation Lawsuit

A lawsuit for defamation seeks to recover damages for injury to the plaintiff's reputation caused by false statements made by one or more defendants. Defamatory written statements are called libel, while statements that are spoken are called slander.

Generally, a plaintiff must prove that the defendant made a false statement that was published, causing the plaintiff injury, and was not privileged (such as testimony at a trial). For those who may be considered public figures, such as Brodeur, there may a higher burden of proof. Public figure plaintiffs must prove that the defendant acted with reckless disregard for the statement's truth or falsity. Brodeur will also have to show that the film's statement actually harmed his reputation by providing evidence of that harm.

In addition to monetary damages, Brodeur is also seeking to have mention of his name removed from any future copies of the film.

According to ABC News, the defendants in Brodeur's lawsuit did not respond to a request for comment.

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