February 12, 2013 2:39pm PT by Eriq Gardner
'Reality Steve' Pleads First Amendment in Lawsuit Over 'Bachelor' Spoilers
"Reality" Steve Carbone, who runs a website devoted to spilling secrets like which contestant is about to be cut on next week's episode of The Bachelor, has answered a lawsuit brought by producers of the popular ABC unscripted show.
Carbone's attorney now is looking to eliminate NZK Productions and Horizon Alternative Television, a division of Warner Bros., from pursuing a lawsuit that accuses the blogger of misdeeds.
What's more, Carbone is also looking to SLAPP away the litigation, contending that the plaintiffs are using the court system improperly to interfere with his First Amendment rights.
Carbone has been in and out of court with Bachelor producers for more than a year.
He originally was sued for attempting to induce contestants into breaching their confidentiality pledges in his efforts to score spoilers. That lawsuit settled in June. But in January, the producers again dragged him into court, alleging he had not changed his ways and violated the terms of the settlement agreement.
In a motion to dismiss, Carbone points to what the settlement actually has to say. (Read the full motion here.)
For five years, he is not to contact directly or indirectly any cast, crew or employees of The Bachelor. But the agreement arguably contains a loophole. He is not barred from being contacted by the cast, crew or employees. In such instances, he is barred from offering or paying any financial inducement for nonpublic details about the show.
Richard Davis, Carbone's attorney, writes in the motion to dismiss, "The language of the Settlement Agreement is important because it establishes a number of permissible ways in which Defendants could obtain information concerning the Series, none of which would run afoul of the Settlement Agreement."
The defendant also faults the producers for not including a copy of the settlement with their lawsuit -- and says, "Perhaps it is not surprising … since it establishes a complete bar to one of Plaintiffs purported claims."
Specifically, Carbone says the parties agreed not to bring any claims against each other except to enforce the agreement -- which he argues precludes any claim for tortious interference. Further, he says the producers were obligated to provide written notice to him of some evidence of the breach and afford him 10 days to respond. He says these prerequisites weren't satisfied.
In addition to the motion to dismiss for failing to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, Carbone has also filed an anti-SLAPP motion. (Read the full motion here.)
California's SLAPP statute provides a way for those facing frivolous claims interfering with First Amendment rights such as free speech to dismiss a lawsuit at an early stage and even win legal fees.
NZK Productions and Horizon Alternative Television believe their claims against Carbone have merit. In the original lawsuit, the plaintiffs point out that Carbone has promised to reveal "everything" about the show's forthcoming 17th cycle.
Carbone says his website qualifies for protection under the anti-SLAPP statue because "information concerning contestants on reality television shows has been held to be a matter of public interest."
If a judge accepts that position -- and also that exemptions don't apply -- the burden would shift to the producers to demonstrate that they have a likelihood of prevailing on the merits of their allegations. For the reasons given above, including what the settlement says, Carbone argue that the plaintiffs can't make that showing. According to his legal papers, the allegation that his spoilers constitute illegal behavior also is argued as conclusory in lieu of specific facts about how he has made contact with those involved in The Bachelor and breached an agreement.
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