Appeals Court Upholds TMZ's Defamation Victory

TMZ was sued by the ex-husband of country singer Sara Evans.
John Sciulli/WireImage
Sara Evans and Craig Schelske

TMZ didn't defame Sara Evans' ex-husband by saying the music star found photos of him having sex with other people on his phone, according to a decision from the California appellate court filed Tuesday.

Craig Schelske sued TMZ in 2014 and the gossip site moved for dismissal under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which brings an early end to lawsuits arising from protected activities such as the freedom of speech.

The trial court in 2015 granted TMZ's dismissal, and on Tuesday the appellate court affirmed it.

The comments at issue stem from the couple’s 2006 divorce. Those filings alleged Schelske “engaged in ‘copious use of porn, rampant adultery and verbal abuse’” and Evans accused him of “storing on his cell phone ‘at least 100 photographs of [himself] posing with his erect penis’ and ‘several photographs showing [him] having sex with other women.’”

Schelske sued his ex-wife’s attorney for slander and later settled.

In the following years, Schelske spoke publicly about their split with a movie producer, on a father’s rights panel and in an interview with Anderson Cooper.

It was a 2014 TMZ on TV segment that sparked his defamation and false light lawsuit. TMZ published a story online about Schelske filing bankruptcy and the same day he was mentioned on the show. A correspondent said that Evans divorced him “after finding ‘a hundred photographs of himself having sex with other people’ on his phone.”

In the opposition to TMZ’s anti-SLAPP motion, Schelske’s attorneys argued his divorce wasn’t a matter of public controversy and he isn’t a public figure. The trial court disagreed, granting the motion.

According to its unpublished opinion, the appellate panel found that Schelske is a limited-purpose public figure because he "repeatedly injected himself into the public eye on issues related to his divorce" and that TMZ did not make the statements at issue with malice because they captured the "gist" of the allegations in Evans' divorce complaint. 

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