A former member of the prison gang Public Enemy No. 1 and a police informant, named as John Doe, claims in an ongoing federal lawsuit that A&E and Gangland Productions ignored his request to remain anonymous in television show called “Gangland” that appeared on the History Channel.
Doe says the producers had agreed to hide his face and voice in the broadcast, but failed to do so. The broadcast showed his face and identified him by his nickname. The producers argue that Doe signed a release, but Doe says they tricked him, saying it was just a receipt for the $300 they paid him. Doe further claims he could not have legally signed the release because he cannot read.
Doe sued for appropriation of likeness, public disclosure of private fact, false promise, and negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, claiming he can no longer get a job as a police informant and that he now lives under constant threat of death from gang members.
A&E and the producers moved to dismiss Doe’s claims under California’s Anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, arguing Doe’s claims are without merit in light of the release.
U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford found that the Anti-SLAPP statute did not apply to the case and denied the defendants’ motion. A three-judge federal appeals panel affirmed on Monday, but for different reasons.
The unanimous panel found that the Anti-SLAAP statute does indeed apply to the action, as it concerns free speech and issues of public concern. However, Doe has shown — at least, that is, for now — that there are significant reasons to question the legality of the release.
“Plaintiff claims in a sworn declaration that he has dyslexia, is illiterate, and that he told Kovac he has ‘extreme difficulty reading,” wrote Judge Harry Pregerson for the Pasadena-based panel. “Plaintiff claims that when he was provided the alleged release, Kovac told him it was ‘just a receipt’ for his $300 payment for the interview. Because of these representations, plaintiff did not ask his girlfriend to read out loud the document before he signed it. At this stage in the proceedings, plaintiff has made a sufficient showing of fraud in the execution of the release, which, if true, would render the release void.”
The panel sent most of Doe’s claims back to the district court in tact. It did however strike his claims for appropriation of likeness and negligent infliction of emotional distress, finding little evidence to support them.
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