Protected opinion

Peter Irons crushes Stuart Pivar and his lawyer. First he does a quick rundown of his cv (modestly referring to ‘several books and law review articles’ – some of those books are pretty well thought of), then explains why: ‘I mention this background, quite frankly, to impress you with my credentials in this field, which are substantially greater than those of Michael J. Little.’ Ouch.

He points out that he was a close friend of Steve Gould’s, and adds that ‘if Steve were still alive, I think he would have a viable defamation action against you for your false statements about his views.’ Ouch.

He points out that the complaint Little filed is very badly drafted, ‘with no legal merit whatever.’ Then he closes in.

On a substantive level, the complaint will never survive a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, for “failure to state a claim upon which relief can be based.”…As Mr. Little should have known, by due diligence, Professor Myers’ characterization was protected opinion, not a false statement of fact. As such, it is immune from defamation actions.

You know, I’m very glad to know that. I suppose I’ve always assumed it, without thinking much about it, and that’s why Pivar’s lawsuit made my jaw drop. If people can be sued for calling someone a crackpot, then nobody can write anything; we’d all be completely paralyzed by self-censorship. I’m glad to know that people can’t be sued for calling someone a crackpot, that that is protected opinion. I like that phrase – it imparts a little glow of beneficence. (I can hear a faint rustling in the distance, far far away, of people gathering their notebooks and microphones for the campaign to pass a law against Incitement of Crackpottery Hatred. Let’s just hope it takes them many years to cover the distance, so many years that by the time they get here the survivors are past speech.)

[A] case Mr. Little should have discovered by due diligence, is an opinion of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Dilworth v. Dudley et al…written by Chief Judge Richard Posner, one of the most highly respected federal appellate judges…Judge Posner wrote that the term “crank” is an opinion and “is mere ‘rhetorical hyperbole.’ … To call a pereson a crank is basically just a colorful and insulting way of expressing disagreement with [the author’s] master idea, and it therefore belongs to the language of controversy rather than to the language of defamation.”

More little glow. Another phrase I like. The language of controversy rather than the language of defamation. Just so. We’re allowed to engage in controversy! We may want to flounce off and never speak to someone again, but we don’t get to sue people just for calling us cranks. Good.

Then things get really funny.

First, your complaint alleges that your Lifecode book, in both the 2004 and 2007 versions, was published by “Ryland Press, Inc.” My research has turned up no such publisher anywhere in the world…I also talked with Terry Krohn at Axiom House, which advertises your second Lifecode book; he told me it was not published by him, that he listed it as a favor to you, and that it had no sales to date. It would be impossible for you to prove even one dollar of damages, let alone $15 million. Finally, you and Mr. Little are subject to monetary sanctions under Rule 11 of the FRCP; I’ll let Mr. Little explain that to you, since he is presumed to know of this potential consequence of filing a meritless suit.

And that it had no sales to date…That’s beautiful, isn’t it?

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