Judge Clears Albert Pujols in Defamation Suit

ST. LOUIS (CN) – A federal judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit against baseball superstar Albert Pujols, his wife and charitable foundation, filed by his cousin.

Wilfrido Pujols sued Albert Pujols, The Pujols Family Foundation and Deidre Pujols on Oct. 21, 2016. 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 criminally implicating Wilfrido Pujols, falsely, 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 Pujols sought $7.5 million in damages.

Wilfrido Pujols said in an email that he will appeal the ruling by U.S. District Judge Charles A. Shaw.

“I was devastated to hear the judge’s decision to dismiss all claims with prejudice,” the statement said. “Especially after he concluded that I was defamed at least on one occasion to the daughter of Todd Perry. As much as I feel the Pujols Family Foundation has done a lot of good things in the community, I feel they should be held responsible for their actions in this case, as no one is above the law. It is unfortunate that i would have to sue my own cousin, his wife and their foundation seeing that all he (Albert) had to do was give me a call and work things out like real family.”

The defendants 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 Pujols is also a former professional baseball player. He has also worked as a professional hitting instructor and in 2016 became a self-employed sports agent 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 Pujols 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 Pujols 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 Pujols 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.

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.

“It is clear to the Court that the alleged injuries in paragraphs 62-84 [of the lawsuit] do not arise from defendants’ alleged defamatory remarks to Kristen Peter, but rather they all relate to the 2007 email and its republication in 2014, which the Court has found is not actionable as defamation because it contains subjective statements of opinion,” Shaw wrote.

An attorney representing the defendants did not immediately respond to an email Wednesday afternoon seeking comment.

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.

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