11th Circuit Refuses to Revive ‘War Dogs’ Defamation Case

A scene from the film “War Dogs” adapted from the book. (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

ATLANTA (CN) — The son of a former Albanian president who claims he was defamed in a book that was later adapted into the 2016 film “War Dogs” cannot sue the author and publisher for accusing him of being a mobster who engaged in corrupt arms dealing, an 11th Circuit panel ruled Wednesday.

The Atlanta-based appeals court unanimously upheld a prior ruling dismissing Shkëlzen Berisha’s defamation lawsuit claiming that Guy Lawson’s 2015 book “War Dogs: The True Story of How Three Stoners From Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History” contained scenes incorrectly identifying him as the man at the center of two major arms-dealing scandals in Albania.

Published by Simon & Schuster and later adapted into a 2016 film starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller, Lawson’s book tells the story of Efraim Diveroli, David Packouz and Alexander Podrizki, Florida residents and childhood friends who became international arms dealers.

Berisha, the son of former Albanian President and Prime Minister Sali Berisha, was allegedly embroiled in a controversy involving Diveroli’s company AEY Inc., a defense contractor that tried to sell Chinese ammunition acquired in Albania to the U.S. military for use in the war in Afghanistan.

Claiming that the book misrepresented him, Berisha sued Lawson, Diveroli, Podrizki, Packouz, Simon & Schuster and Incarcerated Entertainment in federal court in 2017 in an attempt to force the publisher to remove the allegedly defamatory statements from the book.

A Florida federal judge ruled in favor of the defendants in 2018. Berisha appealed the ruling to the 11th Circuit, which heard oral arguments in the case in April.

The panel ruled Wednesday that Berisha failed to show that Lawson, his publisher or any of the other defendants knowingly published falsehoods about him.

The panel pointed out that Lawson made efforts to corroborate the stories told to him by Diveroli and Podrizki, testified that he found Podrizki and Packouz to be “extremely reliable” sources and made note of Diveroli’s habit of lying.

“Further, Lawson’s book explicitly informed the reader of these supposed problems with the men’s credibility, describing them as young partiers who drank, used drugs, and committed a major international fraud,” Senior U.S. Circuit Judge Diarmuid O’Scannlain, a Reagan appointee sitting by designation from the Ninth Circuit, wrote on behalf of the panel.

“Even if Berisha might nitpick each source for one reason or another, this wealth of evidence considered altogether does not permit a reasonable juror to find clear and convincing proof that Lawson held serious doubts about the depiction of Berisha in his book,” the ruling states.

O’Scannlain was joined on the panel by U.S. Circuit Judge Beverly Martin, an Obama appointee, and U.S. Circuit Judge Kevin Newsom, a Trump appointee.

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