8:45am PT by Eriq Gardner
Brett Ratner Accuser Asks Court to Stop His Defamation Lawsuit
Melanie Kohler, who accused Brett Ratner of raping her 12 years ago, has asked a Hawaii federal court to dismiss a defamation lawsuit brought by the famed director. In a motion submitted Tuesday, Kohler's attorneys write that Ratner "filed this defamation lawsuit with a single purpose: to silence and intimidate Ms. Kohler — and other women like her — from coming forward with stories of grave sexual mistreatment at his hands. This case thus raises significant First Amendment concerns."
Ratner's lawsuit came at a curious time — just days after the Los Angeles Times ran a story about Ratner's conduct. Six women, including actresses Olivia Munn and Natasha Henstridge, were quoted with sexual assault allegations, but not Kohler, who detailed her own story on Facebook more than a week before the story broke.
If Kohler became a defendant because she seemed a soft target, she's now represented by a team of seven attorneys, including Robbie Kaplan, who argued a landmark same-sex marriage case before the Supreme Court. They are working pro bono with what they see as an opportunity to make a stand amid a growing number of sexual misconduct stories being made public.
In the motion aimed at defeating Ratner's lawsuit, they take aim at the lawsuit filed by the director, being represented by Hollywood attorney Marty Singer.
To overcome First Amendment concerns, write Kohler's lawyers, "Mr. Ratner must allege his claim with particularity. But instead, he has filed a three-page complaint that exemplifies conclusory pleading: rather than include facts to support his claim and make it plausible, he alleges as 'facts' the underlying legal elements of defamation liability. It is black letter law that a complaint like the one filed here flunks Rule 12(b)(6)."
Kohler's brief states that Ratner's complaint quotes a small portion of her Facebook post — statements including how "Ratner preyed on me as a drunk girl [and] forced himself upon me" — with the subsequent allegation from Ratner that Kohler's statement was "false, fabricated, and fictional," and that Kohler published it with "knowledge of its falsity, maliciously, and with the intent to harm Plaintiff's reputation and standing."
"That’s it," continues the brief. "The Complaint does not address the rest of Ms. Kohler’s post; it does not explain why the selected statement is false or what relationship (if any) Mr. Ratner had with Ms. Kohler; and it alleges zero facts suggesting why Ms. Kohler would have been motivated to lie about Mr. Ratner raping her. Most significantly, the Complaint does not describe as false the portions of Ms. Kohler’s post in which she explains her motives for publishing it: 'I can’t be an advocate for women speaking out if I don’t speak out too. ... Now at least I can look myself in the mirror and not feel like part of me is a coward or a hypocrite.'"
Essentially, Kohler wants the judge to reject the lawsuit as implausible with no fact-finding needed, but if the judge thinks otherwise, she's also attempting to have the judge take a look at the case under California's anti-SLAPP law, which gives special protections for those dragged into court over First Amendment related activities. That could set up a procedural fight, with Kohler arguing that Ratner is a California resident and that the "only connection between this case and Hawaii is that Ms. Kohler now lives in Hawaii and wrote her FB Post from Hawaii."
If the judge decides that California law should be applied — and that's hardly a guarantee as Ratner is sure to want Hawaii's less generous legal standards toward defendants — the burden would likely shift to Ratner to demonstrate how he is likely to prevail on his allegations before the case would move any further.
"Mr. Ratner’s threadbare Complaint does not come close to meeting this standard," Kohler's legal team argues. "Because he is a public figure, Mr. Ratner must demonstrate not only that Ms. Kohler’s statement was false, but that it was made with knowledge or a reckless disregard of its falsity. While Mr. Ratner alleges that Ms. Kohler’s FB Post is 'entirely false, fabricated, and fictional,' as discussed above, this is nothing more than a conclusory statement that lacks any factual support and is insufficient as a matter of law."