Hollywood Reporter Beats David Bergstein's Defamation Lawsuit

2012-12 FEA Tutor David Bergstein H

Ron Tutor and David Bergstein were once highflying business partners. They also were close friends. Neither is the case any longer.

On Thursday, a New York judge dismissed film producer David Bergstein's defamation lawsuit against The Hollywood Reporter over reports stemming from the involuntary bankruptcy of his various companies.

Bergstein, whose credits include The Whole Ten Yards and Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, ran companies including Capitol Films and ThinkFilm. In 2010, creditors led by David Molner's Screen Capital International filed a petition to have those companies brought to Chapter 11 and have a trustee take control. Bergstein was also accused by creditors of treating the companies as if "they were his own personal fiefdom and bankroll," according to the petition to appoint a trustee.

This led to a breathtaking amount of litigation occurring over the past five years, and accordingly, dozens of THR articles that have followed the developments, including instances where Bergstein experienced success and failure in court.

Bergstein asserted in a complaint filed in February 2014 that THR "inexplicably published approximately 100 articles about plaintiff — a relatively minor figure in the film industry — and those publications contained numerous false and defamatory statements."

Many of the articles were written by Alex Ben Block, a former senior editor at THR who, according to the complaint, had a "favorable bias" toward Molner. The $50 million lawsuit contended that stories such as "David Bergstein on Tape: Plans to Smear Judge But 'I Don't Want It to Look Like Extortion'" hurt Bergstein's reputation.

In today's ruling, New York Supreme Court Judge Shlomo Hagler looked at the articles cited by Bergstein and concluded that the defamation claims failed.

One of the articles, about a judge's decision to approve motions by the trustee — which the Hagler says "merely summarized and restated allegations from the California Bankuptcy Proceeding concerning Bergstein's alleged misappropriation of funds" — is deemed as falling within the privilege extended to a "fair and true report" of a judicial proceeding.

Another story about Bergstein's "plans to smear" also isn't defamatory, according to Hagler. The story provided a link to an audio tape of Bergstein speaking. The judge writes, "Comparing the recorded language used by Bergstein to the language used by defendants in the 8/19/13 Article demonstrates the 'substantial truth' of the words used."

Bergstein also took issue with a story about a judge being asked to step aside because the producer said it falsely stated he made "implied threats" on tape. Hagler writes that the language is a "fair index" of Bergstein's recorded statements.

Elsewhere in the decision, the judge dismisses Bergstein's claims of tortious interference, based on an allegation that the actions and statements of a THR reporter had the effect of reducing his equity position in Miramax during the sale of the company. Hagler concludes that the claims restate the conduct underlying the defamation claim and can't withstand scrutiny. The judge adds that Bergstein has failed to allege how THR parties "directed any activities toward any third parties with whom Bergstein had, or sought to have, a relationship."

The lawsuit has been dismissed in its entirety. Here's a full copy of the judge's opinion.