Trump Tweets Deemed Non-Defamatory

Long before he sought the U.S. presidency, Donald J. Trump crafted a high-profile public persona as the consummate dealmaker. He later turned his attention to reality programming.  His TV tag line---"You're fired!"--- underscored the Donald’s assertive leadership style. Most recently, throughout the Republican primaries and Presidential election, Mr. Trump used Twitter as a way to express his thoughts, opinions, and criticisms (using 140 characters or less).

However, some of those tweets resulted in a longtime Republican consultant, Cheryl Jacobus, filing a multimillion-dollar lawsuit accusing Mr. Trump and his campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, of making false statements that harmed her professionally and personally. The complaint accused Mr. Trump and Mr. Lewandowski of libeling her by depicting her as a desperate job-seeker who turned on Mr. Trump after he declined to hire her as part of his campaign for the Presidency.

Apparently, before Mr. Trump’s formal announcement of his candidacy, Jacobus met with two Trump campaign operatives (Corey Lewandowski and Jim Dornan) regarding the position of communications director for the campaign on two occasions. During the second meeting between Ms. Jacobus and Messrs. Dornan and Lewandowski, the trio bickered over FOX News.  Lewandowski became agitated, Dornan left the room, and Jacobus decided she could not work with the histrionic Lewandowski.  After Mr. Trump's formally announced his candidacy for the GOP nomination, Ms. Jacobus discussed his campaign on a number of cable-TV networks.

During one such appearance on CNN on January 26, 2016, Ms. Jacobus characterized then candidate Trump as "bad debater" who "comes off like a third grader faking his way through an oral report on current affairs." Moreover, she stated that he was using a lingering dispute with Megyn Kelly as an excuse for ducking the next FOX News Republican presidential debate. On another CNN show, Jacobus said "there had been a Trump Super PAC, [that] the campaign lied about it, and then shut it down."

Lewandowski's lashed out at Jacobus on MSNBC's Morning Joe program: "[t]his is the same person . . . who came to the office on multiple occasions trying to get a job from the Trump campaign, and when she wasn't hired clearly she went off and was upset by that."

Mr. Trump took to Twitter: "Great job on @donlemon tonight @kayleighmcenany @cherijacobus begged us for a job. We said no and she went hostile. A real dummy! @CNN

After Jacobus's lawyer sent Mr. Trump a cease and desist letter, Mr. Trump upped the ante by tweeting: "Really dumb @CheriJacobus. Begged my people for a job. Turned her down twice and she went hostile. Major loser, zero credibility!"

Shortly thereafter, Jacobus filed her defamation lawsuit. 

In a pre-answer motion to dismiss, Mr. Trump and Lewandowski argued that the statements in question, including Mr. Trump's tweet that Jacobus "begged" for a job and was rejected, constituted hyperbolic rhetoric, too vague to be defamatory.

Jacobus opposed, arguing defendants' words were "deliberate fabrications" of "what they claim caused her to express the views she expressed, which was that she begged for a job and was turned down."

In citing precedent and invoking "the spirit of the First Amendment," Justice Barbara Jaffe ruled in favor of the defendants, finding that "considering the statements as a whole, I find that it is fairly concluded that a reasonable reader would recognize defendants' statements as opinion, even if some of the statements, viewed in isolation, could be found to convey facts. Moreover, that others may infer a defamatory meaning from the statements does not render the inference reasonable under these circumstances.

Thus, although the intemperate tweets are clearly intended to belittle and demean plaintiff, any reasonable reading of them makes it "impossible to conclude that [what defendants said or implied] . . . could subject . . . [plaintiff] to contempt or aversion, induce any unsavory opinion of [her] or reflect adversely upon [her] work," or otherwise damage her reputation as a partisan political consultant and commentator."