Eighth Circuit Asked to Hear Libel Suit Against Baseball Star Albert Pujols

Albert Pujols batting during a game against the New York Yankees on April 14, 2012. (Photo by Marianne O’Leary)

ST. LOUIS (CN) – The cousin of baseball superstar Albert Pujols asked the Eighth Circuit to take up his defamation lawsuit against Pujols, his wife and his charitable foundation over a fatal car crash.

Wilfrido Pujols sued Albert Pujols, The Pujols Family Foundation and Deidre Pujols last year. The Pujols Family Foundation is a nonprofit to benefit people with Down syndrome, disabilities or life-threatening illnesses, and children and families living in poverty in the Dominican Republic.

The complaint claims that Deidre Pujols, as president of the foundation, sent an email falsely criminally implicating Wilfrido Pujols – who is Albert’s cousin – in a fatal vehicle crash, and that Albert and Deidre Pujols made false statements about his criminal record to Kristen Peter, the daughter of Pujols Family Foundation CEO Todd Perry. Wilfrido sought $7.5 million in damages.

U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw dismissed the case in September. Wilfrido filed his appeal with the Eighth Circuit on Monday.

Neither Wilfrido Pujols nor Paul Knobbe, the defendants’ attorney, responded to email requests for comment late Tuesday afternoon.

Albert, his wife and his foundation argued that the claim should be dismissed because it is protected opinion, Wilfrido did not suffer damages due to the email, the defendants cannot be responsible for reproduction of the email, and any defamation claim is time-barred.

Wilfrido is also a former professional baseball player and has worked as a professional hitting instructor. He became a self-employed sports agent in 2016 and formed Team Pujols Sports & Entertainment LLC.

On Nov. 9, 2007, he was a passenger in a vehicle driven by his brother, Wilfredo, who was under the influence of drugs and alcohol. While being pursued by police, Wilfredo ran over and killed Christopher Cooper.

Wilfredo was charged with multiple felonies, including second-degree murder. The plaintiff, the similarly named Wilfrido, claimed in his lawsuit that he tried to stop his brother, and that he was not charged with any crime related to the incident.

Wilfredo pleaded guilty in December 2008 to second-degree murder. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Cooper’s mother emailed the Pujols Family Foundation, directed to Albert Pujols, that her son was “was murdered by your cousins, Wilfredo and Wilfrido Pujols.”

The Pujols Family Foundation emailed a response, over Deidre Pujols’ electronic signature, that stated: “We have never had a close relationship to these young men,” “Let me assure you that in no way would we support these young men financially, legally or in any other means,” and “These two young men have ruined many lives.”

Wilfrido claimed he was never told of these emails, which were published after he was cleared of any charges.

He also claimed that in a conversation with Kristen Peter on July 19, 2016, he was told that both Albert and Deidre Pujols said, falsely, that he had felony convictions for manslaughter and that he spent two years in jail.

Wilfrido also claimed Albert called his house and made outrageous “Mafia-style” threats.

“Plaintiff also alleges that defendant Albert Pujols stated that if plaintiff sued, talked to the media, or Major League Baseball, that he would ‘come after him,’” according to the Sept. 28 order to dismiss.

Judge Shaw was not persuaded that the email was defamatory.

“In the Court’s view, Diedre Pujols’s use of the phrase ‘ruined many lives’ is similar to the use of the word ‘traitor’ in a labor dispute, in that it was being used in ‘a loose, figurative sense’ and was ‘a lusty and imaginative expression of [] contempt,’” Shaw wrote.

Shaw found that since the email was not defamatory, the defendants’ arguments that the claims from the 2007 email are time-barred are moot.

Shaw did find that the statements made to Peter are defamatory because they falsely impute that Wilfrido was involved in a criminal offense, but found that Wilfrido was unable to prove damages related to the statements.

Albert Pujols, 37, a first-baseman, is a three-time National League MVP and a nine-time All-Star. He has a .305 career batting average, 2,969 hits, 1,914 RBIs, and this year became the ninth Major Leaguer to hit 600 home runs, and the first to hit a grand slam for his 600th. He is expected to make it to the Hall of Fame.

Wilfrido Pujols has until Dec. 18, 2017, to file an appellate brief. The defendants will then have 30 days to respond and the plaintiff then has 14 days to file a reply brief.

Wilfrido, who represents himself, said in an email that he no longer plans to pursue his claim of intentional infliction of emotional distress against his baseball star cousin, but will still pursue the defamation claim.

“I know I am going against Goliath but I feel I have a true shot at justice. I have spent countless hours researching the law and will continue to exercise my rights and use the proper legal authority in order to defend my reputation,” he said.

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