Taylor Swift has a date with a jury in August.
The pop star accuses former KYGO radio host David Mueller of groping her at a backstage meet-and-greet. “It was completely intentional, and I have never been so sure of anything in my life,” she testified at a deposition.
In turn, Mueller denies the assault and battery claim and contends that Swift and her team got him fired for no good reason.
Both versions will be heard by a jury at a nine-day trial beginning Aug. 7 as a Colorado federal judge on Wednesday partially rejected Swift’s summary judgment bid to defeat Mueller’s claims. Mueller won’t move ahead on slander, but he’s being given the opportunity to make a case for tortious interference.
“Having reviewed these evidentiary materials, the Court finds that the central and genuine dispute remains,” writes U.S. District Court judge William Martinez in the opinion (read here). “Certain witnesses’ testimony tends to corroborate Swift’s version of events, and Mueller points to other evidence that he argues shows inconsistencies in Swift’s story. None of this changes the reality that if a jury accepts Mueller’s version of the facts, then it must substantially reject Swift’s version, and vice versa. In ruling on summary judgment, it is not the Court’s role to resolve this dispute.”
However, the judge did have to weigh whether Mueller presented enough evidence to meet the elements of a proper claim of intention interference with contractual relations.
Martinez writes that given the Swift team’s familiarity with KYGO, a jury could conclude that she and other defendants — her mother, Andrea, and Swift’s radio promotions director, Frank Bell — reasonably should have known that Mueller had some form of employment contract.
The judge then examines communications between Swift’s camp and KYGO and finds a jury could come to the conclusion they acted with an intent to cause his termination. As for whether there was any improper interference via economic pressure, the judge nods to deposition testimony that KYGO may have feared action by Swift and says a jury should decide this question.
“Second, treating Mueller’s testimony as true, a jury that found he was wrongly accused might, as a consequence, also conclude that Defendants acted with reckless disregard for the veracity of their accusations, or based on a grossly inadequate investigation,” writes the judge.
Martinez adds, “To be clear, the Court views this as a close question. There would appear to be nothing improper about Swift — or any other person — making an honest report to an entity with which she does business that one of its employees assaulted or harassed her. Indeed, in the undersigned’s view, the policy of the law should encourage the reporting of actual assaults, not attach liability to it. … Nevertheless, in considering the present record, the law requires the Court to treat Mueller’s version of the facts as true at this stage of litigation, and therefore to view the entire record from a standpoint that views Mueller as having been wrongly accused.”
The judge also rejects the argument at this stage that Swift can’t be held liable for Mueller’s termination because she was not the cause of it. Swift argued that it was KYGO’s independent investigation that triggered the firing, but Martinez says when viewing the evidence most favorably to Mueller, “the record does not reflect a truly independent investigation,” and that under Colorado law, proximate cause needn’t be a prerequisite to liability for intentional interference with contract.
Swift does get one victory (or two, if one wants to be generous to her).
The judge decides to throw out Mueller’s separate claims for slander per se and slander per quod.
The radio DJ put forward in an amended complaint that Swift’s statements about his conduct were false and how those statements caused harm to his reputation, profession and standing in the community. The problem for him is that there was a one-year statute of limitations on slander claims. Mueller argued that after Swift filed her own claims, it gave him another shot.
“Put another way, Mueller asks the Court to treat his slander claims as ‘counter-counterclaims,’ responsive to Swift’s assault and battery claims,” writes the judge, who thinks that’s a bad idea because it will allow clever lawyers to beat time limits. “[T]he Court rejects Mueller’s interpretation because it would invite undue litigation gamesmanship, allowing parties to file successive rounds of ‘revived’ counter- claims, counter-counterclaims, counter-counter-counterclaims, etc., even they were asserted further and further outside the applicable limitations period. That perverse result would be contrary to the recognized purposes of enforcing limitations periods.”
The judge is also requiring all parties — including Swift — to be present during the entirety of the jury trial. Expect Swift in Colorado this August.