Netflix Faces Libel Suit for Linking I.C.E. Contractor to Miserable Immigration Detention Facilities

Messiah Michelle Monaghan - Publicity - H 2019
Ursula Coyote/Netflix

Who is facing more defamation suits at the moment — The New York Times or Netflix?

Our guess is the latter. On Wednesday, the streamer added to its plate of libel actions (When They See Us, Making a Murderer, The Laundromat, etc.) when The GEO Group filed suit over Messiah, a fictional thriller co-executive produced by Mark Burnett. The series, which premiered earlier this year, is about a CIA officer investigating a spiritual movement. Netflix's promotional material describes it as not based on true events.

Nevertheless, in Florida federal court, The GEO Group — a private contractor who admits working with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement — objects to scenes of an immigrant detention facility bearing its name and trademarks.

Messiah "falsely accuses GEO of detaining immigrants in overcrowded overheated rooms with chain-link cages and depriving them of beds, bedding, sunshine, recreation, and educational opportunities," states the complaint. "Unlike in Messiah, GEO does not house people in overcrowded rooms with chain-link cages at its facilities, but provides beds, bedding, air conditioning, indoor and outdoor recreational spaces, soccer fields, classrooms, libraries, and other amenities that rebut Messiah’s defamatory falsehoods."

The plaintiff is represented by the firm of Clare Locke, the same Virginia firm that once took on Rolling Stone in the infamous rape-on-campus story.

This time, the complaint (read here) is adorned with images of GEO's real facilities as well as the miserable ones on Messiah, where producers are said to have plastered the plaintiff's logo. GEO says its "state-of-the-art" facilities for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement provide "safe, secure, and humane environments."

Along with a defamation claim is a trademark cause of action plus unfair competition and unfair trade practices. GEO demands an injunction plus compensatory and punitive damages.