The Anatomy Of A Defamation Claim – Scottie Pippen’s Case Is Dismissed

by Gray Reed & McGraw

I think Scottie Pippen is one of the most overrated players in the history of the NBA.  My opinion may be soured because I am a Houston Rockets fan and the experiment with him, Olajuwon and Charles Barkley did not end well.

See video here:

Of course, that’s just my opinion.  What if, however, I reported, as fact, Scottie Pippen declared bankruptcy when, in truth, he never did?

According to Graydon Head’s Jack Out of the Box blog, Scottie Pippen sued media outlets because of the erroneous reporting, but the case was dismissed by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals.  If you are a public figure, take heed — even when the reporting is blatantly wrong, actually recovering may be difficult.  The trial court dismissed the lawsuit because the court did not believe Scottie Pippen proved any damages and failed to prove any “actual malice.”


If people were going around claiming I was bankrupt when I wasn’t, I would not be happy. Neither was Pippen.  He claimed it defamation per se which means the defamation was of such a nature to be patently harmful to your reputation so that you don’t have to prove any actual damages.   Pippen suggested that claiming he filed bankruptcy implied he could not handle his job.  The court disagreed noting the ability to handle finances did not impugn his ability to do his commentator or spokesperson work.

Actual Malice

When you are a public figure, you have to show the media engaged in actual malice–which means you have to show the reporter knew or really should have known the information was false.  Pippen argued a simple web search would have revealed whether or not Pippen had filed bankruptcy.   Negligence – or failure to reasonably investigate – does not equal actual malice.

Pippen even proved to some of the media outlets that he did not file bankruptcy and complained that some outlets did not retract the story.  Failure to retract does not equal actual malice.

Also of note, the Seventh Circuit determined Illinois law would likely join the majority position of applying the single publication rule to the Internet.  This means that the statute of limitations begins to run the first time the defamatory content appeared on the Internet.

What Does It Mean?

Yes, the media outlets won, but the victory did not come cheaply.  I am sure they would have preferred to have gotten the facts right then to be dragged through litigation that went to the court of appeals.  The end result in Texas would have probably been the same, but there are certain procedural advantages that may have made the process cheaper and quicker such as the Anti-SLAPP dismissal and the new Texas retraction demand requirements.

Then again, maybe Scottie Pippen wasn’t in this case for the money.  He seems to have publicized the fact that he never did declare bankruptcy and the reports that he did were just wrong.  He may have just wanted to win this one in the court of public opinion.  Now, if he can shake that “only because of Michael Jordan” debate although the numbers and this play should give Pippen some cred.  Maybe, my original opinion was a little harsh.

See video here:


DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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