Eddie Murphy Beats Comedian's Defamation Lawsuit

Eddie Murphy Comedy Awards - H 2011
Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images

Eddie Murphy Comedy Awards - H 2011

Eddie Murphy has prevailed in a strange $50 million defamation lawsuit brought by a comedian named Brando Murphy.

Before the lawsuit began, the younger, less famous Murphy seemed to insinuate that he was the older, more famous Murphy's son. That led to a cease-and-desist letter from Eddie Murphy's attorney Marty Singer, who threatened to sue Brando Murphy for doing things like appearing with Richard Pryor's son on the "Sons of Comedy" tour and showing up at a Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf store that Eddie frequented and screaming, "My father won't talk to me!"

After being accused of stalking, Brando Murphy got to the courthouse first, filing his libel claims in L.A. Superior Court this past February and proclaiming, "The name Murphy is of Irish decent ... and not exclusive to Eddie Murphy, a 'Black Man' of African Ancestry and a purported African American."

The plaintiff also sued the National Enquirer and The Wendy Williams Show for repeating statements in coverage of the paternity claims that allegedly caused him reputational damage.

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In response to the lawsuit, the defendants moved to strike it as an impingement of their First Amendment rights.

For Murphy, that meant his right to petition grievances. For the media defendants, that meant their right to comment freely about matters of public interest.

Judge William Stewart agrees that Brando Murphy's claims fall into the category of specially protected activity under California's anti-SLAPP statute, holding that Singer's warnings to the young comedian were in "anticipation of litigation" and that the media defendants' statements were in furtherance of the constitutional right of free speech because "there is a public interest in Eddie Murphy in light of his accomplishments as a comedian and actor."

Because the defendants ably demonstrated this, it became Brando Murphy's burden to show he had a probability of prevailing in the lawsuit before it went any further.

The plaintiff failed.

Judge Stewart says that Brando Murphy didn't offer competent and admissible evidence that Eddie Murphy "made a intentional publication of fact or that the statement was false and unprivileged" and failed to show how the National Enquirer and The Wendy Williams Show acted with actual malice insofar as having "knowledge that their statements were false or that they acted with reckless disregard for the truth." The judge used libel law's malice standard after finding Brando Murphy to be a limited-purpose public figure for voluntarily injecting himself into the controversy by engaging in press interviews.

At a hearing on May 30, the judge adopted a tentative ruling and is now expected to be issuing a minute order any day. Brando Murphy isn't waiting. He appealed the ruling earlier this week.

The media defendants were represented by Joel Weiner at Katten Muchin as well as Cameron Stracher and Marc Rupp.

E-mail: Eriq.Gardner@THR.com
Twitter: @eriqgardner