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Lawsuit Against Filmmaker Errol Morris Raises Interesting, Bizarre Questions

A Matter of Public Interest?

After McKinney sued Morris as well as producers and distributors of Tabloid, the defendants brought an anti-SLAPP motion on grounds that the lawsuit served to stifle free speech.

In February, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James Steele was tasked with figuring out whether McKinney stood a likelihood of success in her lawsuit, and to make that determination, he had to decide whether McKinney was a "public figure" and whether her drama was "a matter of public interest." If so, she'd need to show "malice" to prove any defamation.

Morris and other defendants argued that McKinney was "public" because of her notorious past in England as well as a strange story that popped up a few years ago how McKinney was now running the world's first enterprise that cloned dogs. They also argued that the story was "public" because the documentary explored the tactics of tabloid journalism, which raised questions about "the condition of American society."

McKinney disputed this assessment, saying that most of the events that purportedly made her a public figure occurred in another country over three decades ago. She also argued that Morris couldn't inject her into a story of public interest only to use that as the basis for arguing it was a matter of public interest.

Ultimately, the judge sided with Morris, ruling that McKinney was a "limited-purpose public figure" who voluntarily injected herself into the story. The judge also took a look at Tabloid and said "a substantial portion of the film consisted of Plaintiff's version of the Anderson event."

Steele doubted whether McKinney could meet the malice standard and ruled that she hadn't demonstrated a likelihood of success on misappropriation of likeness, intrusion on seclusion, false light and defamation.

However, the judge also noted that "the parties may have entered into the venture with a different understanding of what the project would entail" and declined to dismiss causes of action that were based on "other, non-protected activity."

As McKinney appeals the limitation of her claims, the case proceeded on her other allegations.