A MAN NAMED Peter Sloan, purported son of William Shatner, sued the James T. Kirk/Danny Crane actor for defamation in February. The Middle District of Florida (Tampa division) quickly dismissed the original complaint but gave Sloan leave to file an amended complaint, which he did do.
Shatner filed another motion to dismiss.
On August 3, 2017, the Court entered an order dismissing Sloan’s amended complaint.
If a statement is not false, it’s not defamatory
One issue involved in Sloan’s first two counts was question of whether Sloan really is Shatner’s son. Sloan based his first two counts on statements Shatner’s public relations and communications representative made to the Tampa Tribune, which quoted her as saying, “Mr. Shatner has 3 lovely daughters but NO son,” and that Sloan “fraudulently portrayed himself as Mr. Shatner’s son for years.”
In a footnote, Judge James D. Whittemore said that, the way Sloan pleaded Count I, he was “[e]ffectively . . . . attempting to use a defamation lawsuit to bring a paternity action and circumvent the laws sealing adoption records.”
Judge Whittmore also said Sloan’s factual allegations did not establish that the statements were false. Rather, it appeared that the paternity was still speculative and the facts contradicted themselves. In its order, the Court wrote:
To state a cause of action for defamation under Florida law, a plaintiff must allege the following five elements: “(1) publication; (2) falsity; (3) actor must act with knowledge or reckless disregard as to the falsity on a matter concerning a public official, or at least negligently on a matter concerning a private person; (4) actual damages; and (5) statement must be defamatory.” Jews For Jesus, Inc. v. Rapp, 997 So. 2d 1098, 1105-06 (Fla. 2008). “[A] statement must be false to be libelous[.]” Rubin v. U.S. News & World Report, Inc., 271 F.3d 1305, 1308 (11th Cir. 2001).
Viewing Plaintiff’s allegations as true, he was born to an unknown biological father, but he “gradually became aware of facts supporting the conclusion” that Shatner was his biological father. (Dkt. 9 ¶¶ 22, 23). Shatner privately admitted he was Plaintiff’s father, Shatner privately denied he was Plaintiff’s father, Plaintiff proposed to conclusively determine paternity through testing, and Plaintiff contacted Shatner “for the sole purpose of definitively resolving the question of Plaintiff’s paternity.” (Dkt. 9 ¶¶ 25, 26, 27, 32). Indeed, these allegations, taken as true, are that he does not know who his biological father is, and his paternity is unknown.
According to the Tribune article, Plaintiff is “the product of a one-night stand … born without Shatner’s knowledge and given up for adoption” in New York. (Dkt. 9-1 at 3). After reconnecting with his biological mother, she described two men who could be his father, Shatner and a law student from Montreal. (Dkt. 9-1 at 3-4). He was adopted through the Children’s Aid Society which did not give him the name of his birth parents, but described his father as “a law student who belonged to ‘one of the old respected families in Canada.”‘ (Dkt. 9-1 at 7). Taking the Tribune article as true, Plaintiff’s mother speculated the identity of his biological father, and the adoption agency informed Plaintiff that his biological father is the law student from Montreal, not Shatner.
For Counts Counts II and IV, Sloan sued for the statement Hepburn made that Plaintiff “has fraudulently portrayed himself as Mr. Shatner’s son for years” and another statement by Shatner’s social media director that, “It’s all a big con game for fame so that’s why we don’t bother with Mr. Sloan.”
Again, the Court said that Sloan contradicted himself:
Plaintiff’s contention that these statements are defamatory per se is belied by his own allegations. As discussed supra, his factual allegations do not establish that the statement that he is not Shatner’s son are untrue.
The Court dismissed the other counts as well, including “Tortious Interference with a Business Relationship,” arguing that he utilizes Twitter and IMDb to self-promote his work and that Shatner somehow intervened with those relationships. The Court find that his allegations, however, were “devoid of any facts that afforded him existing or prospective legal rights with Twitter or IMDB, or any understanding between himself and Twitter or IMDb that would have been completed but for Shatner’s intentional interference.” It also says Shatner failed to show intentional interference.
Sloan given 14 days to amend
The Court dismissed the amended complaint without prejudice and gave Sloan 14 days (or until August 17, 2017, which is the date of this blog entry) to file a second amended complaint. As of today, the docket shows no new pleading. However, Sloan is pro-se; if he mailed his amended pleading, as opposed to electronic filing, it may have not yet had a chance to make it onto the docket.
The case is Peter Michael Sloan a/k/a Peter Shatner v. William Shatner, Case No. 8:17-CV-332-T-27AAS, 2017 WL 3332232, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Aug. 3, 2017). Copy of Order below.