Sean Penn Seeks to Sanction Lee Daniels Over Tactics in Defamation Fight

The forum for the battle between the actor and the 'Empire' co-creator is the newest controversy.

The legal dispute between Sean Penn and Empire co-creator Lee Daniels is turning on tactics quickly.

In September, Penn filed a $10 million lawsuit over a comment that Daniels had made to The Hollywood Reporter. In an interview, Daniels defended Empire star Terrence Howard over media reports of domestic trouble. "[Terrence] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f—in' demon," Daniels told THR. "That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America."

In his lawsuit, Penn alleges that "Daniels falsely equates Penn with Howard, even though, while he has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest."

Daniels plans to raise some sort of First Amendment defense for his comments, and apparently he sees procedural advantage in fighting the lawsuit in federal court rather than a New York state court. So Daniels' attorneys submitted a notice of removal of the case, citing diversity jurisdiction — Penn lives in California, Daniels in New York.

Removals to federal court are fairly routine and usually don't spark fireworks, but not this time.

In a letter from Penn's team to a federal judge today, filed in court, the move is called "improper and legally defective" because under the forum defendant rule, a civil action can't be removed to federal court if the defendant is a citizen of the state where the action is brought. In other words, because Daniels is a New Yorker, he has to face the lawsuit in New York Supreme Court.

Penn's lawyer, Mathew Rosengart, says in his letter that the case must be remanded to state court and that Penn is entitled to his costs and attorneys' fees.

Daniels is being represented by James Sammataro at Stroock, who wasn't immediately available for comment.