(CN) - The movie "American Hustle" did not defame an author with a scene about the environmental effects of microwave ovens, a California appeals court ruled.
Paul Brodeur published a book in 1977 called "The Zapping of America: Microwaves, Their Deadly Risk and the Cover-Up."
"American Hustle" is a movie about con men set in the late 1970s during the Abscam scandal, which saw several public officials convicted of bribery. Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper star in the film.
In one scene, Lawrence's "slightly unhinged" character, Rosalyn, causes her family's new microwave oven to explode despite her husband's warnings about putting tin foil in the "science oven."
"You know, I read that it takes all of the nutrition out of your food," Rosalyn tells her husband, Carmine. "It's empty, just like your deals. Empty! Empty!"
"Listen to this bullshit," Carmine says.
"It's not bullshit! I read it in an article, look: By Paul Brodeur," Rosalyn replies, handing him an article.
Brodeur sued Atlas Entertainment, Columbia Pictures and Annapurna Pictures for defamation, slander, libel and false light, arguing that they misquoted him in Rosalyn's speech.
The defendants moved to strike the lawsuit via the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute because the speech was of "public interest." They noted that "American Hustle" won three Golden Globe awards and was nominated for 10 Oscars.
Through his attorney, Brodeur touted his own awards for his writing about environmental hazards, which he documented in two other books: "Currents of Death" and "The Great Power Line Cover-Up."
The trial court denied the producer's motion to strike Brodeur's lawsuit, but the Second District California Court of Appeals overturned the decision.
"We conclude defendants made the necessary threshold showing that plaintiff's complaint arose from protected activity, and plaintiff failed to produce evidence legally sufficient, if credited, to support a judgment in his favor," Justice Elizabeth Grimes wrote on the court's behalf.
She noted that Brodeur, by his own reckoning, is a public figure.
"The views expressed in his pioneering articles on the health hazards associated with exposure to microwave radiation were plainly a matter of public interest in the 1970's, and his claims that the government safety standard for microwave ovens was inadequate have been rejected by numerous authorities," Grimes wrote.
Grimes also pointed out that "American Hustle" is a screwball comedy that pokes fun at the excesses of the Me Decade.
"In these circumstances, we can see no basis for concluding that a farcical scene about microwave ovens — clearly emanating from matters in which the public was interested during the relevant decade — is anything other than protected activity within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute," she wrote.
Grimes notes that Brodeur also failed to show a probability of winning the case on its merits, which is necessary to overcome an anti-SLAPP motion.
Brodeur cited his interview in a 1978 issue of People magazine in which said there was no known danger in eating food cooked in a microwave.
"While this was clearly a statement that there are no known dangers in eating microwaved food (as opposed to dangers to the human body of microwaves themselves), it is not a statement, one way or the other, about whether microwave ovens reduce the nutritional value of food," Grimes wrote. "This leaves the record devoid of any evidence of whether or not plaintiff ever made the statement Rosalyn attributes to him."
"The general tenor of 'American Hustle,' the entirely farcical nature of the 'science oven' scene, and the ditzy nature of the character uttering the allegedly defamatory statement, all indicate that an audience would not expect anything Rosalyn says to reflect objective fact," she added.
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