'Wolf of Wall Street' Producers Push for End to "Libel in Fiction" Lawsuit

Wolf of Wall Street Cover Image Horizontal - H 2013
Wesley Mann

Wolf of Wall Street Cover Image Horizontal - H 2013

With tales of how the guy suing them once had a large role at Stratton Oakmont, was witnessed having sexual relations with a prostitute and ingested Quaaludes and marijuana during his time at the disgraced brokerage firm, the producers of Wolf of Wall Street are seeking an end to a libel lawsuit. On Friday, Paramount Pictures, Red Granite, Martin Scorsese's Sikelia Productions, and Leonardo DiCaprio's Appian Way highlighted evidence in advance of a summary judgment motion.

The lawsuit comes from Andrew Greene, who in the mid-1990s was general counsel at Stratton Oakmont, where he worked with Jordan Belfort and acted as a liaison with federal regulators. Greene claims in his lawsuit that the movie character of "Nicky Koskoff" — the toupee-wearing "Rugrat" — defames him by falsely showing him engaged in sexist and misogynistic behavior. He insists he did no "midget tossing," did not engage in sexual acts with female co-workers and while admitting to drug use, never did so during work hours nor in the Stratton Oakmont offices.

The case belongs to a sub-species of defamation law known as "libel in fiction," where a plaintiff can prevail only if he shows that a reasonable person understood whatever was fictionalized to be thinly veiled false statements about him.

Here, the producers tell the judge in a letter that Wolf of Wall Street is a "work of fiction inspired by fact," but otherwise deny that reasonable viewers would believe Koskoff was really Greene.

According to defendants' statement of material facts, heavily informed by depositions and declarations (including from Scorsese, DiCaprio and Belfort), screenwriter Terence Winter created the Koskoff character as a composite of Greene and two others — Elliot Loewenstern and Gary Kaminsky. The "Nicky Koskoff" name related to the fact that one of the producers of the film was married to a man named Nicky Koskoff. Scorsese had no role in picking names.

"Nothing in the content of the film would enable the ordinary reasonable viewer to know whether or not there was a real person named Nicky Koskoff who had inspired the character," states defendants. "Those few people who would know that no actual person named Nicky Koskoff was being referred to by the character would have no reasonable basis to believe that the Nicky Koskoff character was anything other than a fictional character inspired by several people."

Non-identification is but one reason given by defendants for dismissal of the lawsuit. There's also the question of falsity. The defendants tell the judge that Greene "cannot dispute that the widespread unprofessional conduct at Stratton Oakmont that was depicted in the film is substantially true."

The statement of material facts (read here) goes into much more detail and has sections like "Prostitutes, Prostitution and Andrew Greene."

"In 1991, Jordan Belfort invited Andrew Greene to attend his bachelor party at the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas," goes one paragraph of the filing. "Mr. Greene attended the party, as did approximately 100 Stratton brokers. Also attending the party were approximately 50 prostitutes that had been flown from the east coast, and a number of other prostitutes who were hired from Las Vegas or from California. Scattered throughout the main room were sterling silver trays containing illegal drugs. In the main room, male guests at the party engaged in sexual relations with a prostitute."

The filing further recounts securities fraud at Stratton Oakmont and calls Greene a "co-conspirator."

Greene himself has his own statement of material facts (read here) that denies engaging in sexual acts with prostitutes at the offices, having knowledge or involvement in Belfort's money laundering activities or signing a "cooperation agreement" with law enforcement.

Even if Greene is able to show that those who saw Wolf of Wall Street come away with false impressions about what he was up to at Stratton Oakmont, the defendants say that his lawsuit must still fail because of a failure to demonstrate that statements were made with actual malice — that is, knowledge of falsity or reckless disregard for truth. The application of the actual malice test is called "atypical" in this case because this is a lawsuit that examines fiction.

"Defendants believed that the statements about Nicky Koskoff could not be 'false' because they were of and concerning a fictional character named Nicky Koskoff, and no reasonable viewer would believe that Koskoff was really Green," states defendants' letter to the judge.

Paramount Pictures is requesting a pre-motion conference with U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.

Vincent Cox, the studio's lawyer, is telling Seybert that Greene failed to comply with legal procedure by offering up a counterstatement that did not remotely correspond to the one from his clients. As such, the defendants want most of their statement to be deemed as admitted. If the judge agrees, and if there's no controversy over the lack of actual malice, the Wolf of Wall Street producers believe that the case will be easily dispensed.