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On Thursday, Academy Award-winning director Paul Haggis failed to convince a judge there should be a “reckoning” for false rape claims in the #MeToo era.
Haggis is facing the allegation of raping publicist Haleigh Breest in 2013. Before she sued him, he sued her. Now her lawsuit will proceed. His won’t.
Haggis claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress on the basis that before the dispute ended up in court, Breest’s lawyers made a $9 million “hush” demand. At a hearing Thursday, Haggis’ attorney, Christine Lepera, attempted to argue this was more than the typical pre-litigation settlement demand.
“I never agreed to have settlement discussions,” said Lepera. “It became clear it was extortion. When you threaten litigation on a false rape allegation in this climate, it’s outrageous. We all know rape is outrageous. This is equally outrageous.”
New York Supreme Court Judge Robert Reed wasn’t convinced. He said there was a difference between telling an adversary a lawsuit may be coming and telling that adversary that damaging information would become public. He also worried that anyone could sue for emotional distress upon getting the threat of a lawsuit — even in contract or personal injury situations.
“The distinction is the nature of the false allegation,” said Lepera. “Falsely accusing someone of sexual assault. … The mere accusation is typically accompanied by incredibly negative social stigma.”
“This is chilling,” responded Reed. “As a matter of policy, what you are saying would have a chilling effect.”
Lepera then tried to argue that Breest was litigating in the press by, among other things, drafting her complaint in a particular way.
“I read your complaint, too,” said Reed. “You did the same thing. You talked to the press. This all became public because you filed first.”
At the end of the hearing, the judge dismissed Haggis’ lawsuit in a ruling read out loud. He noted there was no specific allegation of threats by Breest to go on a media campaign.
“It is this court’s view that it would serve as a chill on the ability of persons who believe another has committed sexual misconduct if they were unable to pursue pre-litigation discussions and settlement demands, even outrageous settlement demands,” said Reed. “In the court’s view, this would be in violation of public policy.”
The judge, though, denied a motion for sanctions.
Reed also heard arguments about her lawsuit. Haggis challenged the type of assault claim being asserted as legally nonexistent, based on a New York statute dealing with limitations on the time to bring a lawsuit. The judge said the statute in question allowed a private right of action — meaning a civil lawsuit — and decided to allow the claim.
The director also aimed to dismiss a separate claim his alleged rape was an act of gender-motivated violence.
Breest’s attorney pointed to the allegation that Haggis made sexist remarks during the rape, but the judge said that while it might add to the tale, it didn’t necessarily show Haggis’ hatred of women.
Reed nodded to how, two years ago, a different judge dismissed Kesha’s same claim against Dr. Luke (another Lepera client) on the basis that not every rape is motivated by gender animosity.
Nevertheless, despite some voiced skepticism during the hearing, the judge ultimately came to the conclusion there was enough alleged to bring it to a jury and that the claim would be further informed by discovery. He also allowed an amended complaint that added allegations that Haggis raped three other anonymous women.
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