A report that Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP prepared in connection with an investigation of bullying within the Miami Dolphins professional football organization wasn’t defamatory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit held Jan. 18.
The National Football League hired the law firm to investigate alleged bullying on the team after Dolphins player Jonathan Martin abruptly left it in 2013, claiming he was bullied, the court’s decision by Judge Frank M. Hull said.
Paul Weiss’s report referenced James Turner, a Dolphins offensive line coach, and said his “unprofessional conduct played a role in Martin’s struggles,” the court said.
The Dolphins fired Turner after receiving the report, and he sued the firm and Paul Weiss partner Theodore Wells for defamation, the court said.
None of the statements in the report were “actionable for defamation,” the court said.
For example, a statement that Turner participated in homophobic taunting of another player by giving him a “male blow-up doll” was merely an opinion, and the First Amendment protects opinions from defamation actions, the court said.
The report “included several cautionary statements” informing readers that its conclusions were mere opinions, the court said.
Judge Joel F. Dubina joined the opinion. Judge Jane A. Restani of the U.S. Court of International Trade, sitting by designation, also joined the opinion.
Peter R. Ginsberg of New York argued for Turner. Paul Weiss argued for itself and Wells.
The case is Turner v. Wells, 2018 BL 16272, 11th Cir., No. 16-15692, 1/18/18.