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In Touch Weekly’s story claiming Blake Shelton has a drinking problem isn’t protected speech, according to a federal judge’s ruling on Monday.
Last September, Shelton’s face was on the cover of In Touch with bold yellow letters reading “Rehab for Blake,” which prompted the country star to sue the magazine’s publisher for defamation in October.
Judge Christina A. Snyder on Monday denied the magazine’s motion to strike the singer’s suit under California’s anti-SLAPP statute and found the headline alone supports a claim for libel per se.
“A reasonable person viewing the In Touch headlines and sub-headlines –– which were located 30 pages away from the Article –– might well have concluded that Shelton had, in fact, entered ‘REHAB’ after ‘his friends begged him to stop joking about drinking & get help,'” Snyder writes.
Clearing the anti-SLAPP hurdle is a positive sign for Shelton’s attorney Larry Stein, as a plaintiff has to establish that he or she has a reasonable probability of proving that the information was published with actual malice, which is a high bar.
Snyder found it is undisputed that the magazine ran the headline without believing Shelton was in rehab.
In Touch argued that the claim Shelton was seeking rehab couldn’t be libel because “it would be entirely commendable for Shelton to seek rehab considering his undisputed history of bragging about his own drunkenness and his well-publicized behavior while under the influence of alcohol.”
Snyder doesn’t see it that way.
“No courts appear to have held that defamation claims premised upon false reports of treatment in rehabilitation must fail, as a matter of law,” Snyder writes. “This Court accordingly declines to be the first.”
The cover also claimed Shelton had hit rock bottom, drinks vodka before noon and his alcohol use destroyed his marriage to fellow country star Miranda Lambert, and according to his suit the story itself is “replete with salacious falsehoods.”
In Touch claimed that Shelton is “libel proof” because he posts about being drunk on social media.
Snyder disagreed and further said even if he were libel-proof, a designation generally only used for people whose reputations have already been tarnished beyond repair, his tweets about alcohol wouldn’t justify the weekly’s comments about rehab.
“Even if plaintiff is ‘libel proof’ as to false assertions regarding his ‘excessive drinking,’ this does not mean defendants may make false assertions regarding his treatment in ‘REHAB’ with impunity,” the judge writes.
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