Brett Ratner Accused of "Defendant-Shopping" to Avoid California Law

Brett Ratner - 2016 Before the Flood Screening - Getty - H 2017
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Brett Ratner is being accused of "defendant-shopping" by the woman he sued for defamation after she wrote a Facebook post in which she claimed he raped her.

After an explosive Los Angeles Times report in which six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge, say they were sexually assaulted or harassed by Ratner, he sued another woman named Melanie Kohler. She isn't quoted in the piece, but, the week before the story broke she wrote a post on the social media site claiming that Ratner "was a rapist on at least one night in Hollywood about 12 years ago" and "preyed on me as a drunk girl [and] forced himself upon me."

Ratner in November sued Kohler for defamation, claiming the statements she made are fabricated. She asked the court to toss the suit, arguing it was "threadbare" and failed to show she acted with malice, a standard Ratner would need to meet as a public figure.

Her legal team also suggested the Hawaii federal judge should take California's anti-SLAPP law into consideration. The statute makes plaintiffs prove a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim early on in litigation arising from the exercise of constitutionally protected rights like free speech. Hawaii's version of the law requires the statements at issue to have been made to a governmental body.

After Ratner's attorney Andrew Brettler told the court it should keep the case alive and reject her request to invoke California law, Kohler's attorney is now stepping up the free speech arguments in favor of using it.

"If wealthy, powerful plaintiffs like Mr. Ratner can burden victims of sexual assault like Ms. Kohler based on nothing more than their own say-so, then our fundamental First Amendment protections will offer no sanctuary to those who need them most," writes attorney Robbie Kaplan in a Monday filing. 

Kohler's legal team argues that not only does Ratner live in California, but all of the alleged injury occurred in the state and so did the events described in Kohler's Facebook post. The only connection to Hawaii, Kaplan argues, is that Kohler currently lives there. (Read the full filing below.)

Further, Kaplan claims Ratner chose to sue Kohler instead of the other accusers because she's not a California resident.

"[T]he major impact of Ms. Kohler’s statement has been felt in California, which is currently engaged in a fierce public debate over the issues at the heart of this case," writes Kaplan. "And, as Ms. Kohler explained in her Motion, this lawsuit is itself aimed primarily at silencing other women — most of whom reside in California and wish to speak about California residents. Significantly, while Mr. Ratner has publicly denied all the allegations against him, he has effectively engaged in 'defendant-shopping' by choosing to sue the only woman accusing him of misconduct who does not live in California — such an effort to circumvent California’s anti-SLAPP statute should not be permitted here."

A hearing on the matter is currently set for Thursday.