Judge Tosses ‘Wolf of Wall Street’ Defamation Case

BROOKLYN (CN) – A federal judge on Thursday dismissed libel claims against Paramount Pictures brought by a former financial executive who argued the Leonardo DiCaprio-led movie “Wolf of Wall Street” falsely portrayed him as a “criminal, a drug user and a degenerate.”

Andrew Greene, a Long Island native, filed a federal lawsuit against Paramount and Red Granite Pictures back in 2014 shortly after the movie’s release.

The movie, which opened on Christmas Day 2013, is a fictionalized telling of the trading exploits of Jordan Belfort, who founded the brokerage firm Stratton Oakmont and was eventually indicted on securities fraud and money laundering charges in 1998.

Greene, a childhood friend of Belfort, led Stratton Oakmont’s corporate finance department and served as a member of its board of directors until his resignation in 1996.

He claimed in his lawsuit that a fictional character in the movie named Nicky “Rugrat” Koskoff uses his toupee-wearing “likeness, image and characterization” without permission. 

Greene argued that several scenes in the movie, which was based on Belfort’s 2007 book, were “fundamentally injurious” to his “professional reputation both as an attorney and as an investment banker/venture capitalist as well as his personal reputation.”

The Koskoff character, played by P.J. Byrne, was portrayed as “depraved, and/or devoid of any morality or ethics,” including a scene where the character is shown shaving a woman’s head after she was offered $10,000.The film additionally suggests he orchestrated off-shore money deals, snorted cocaine and hired prostitutes.

DiCaprio himself was called to testify during the case proceedings, and most of Greene’s claims were dismissed in a September 2015 ruling.

Only his public figure libel claim remained until it was dismissed Thursday by U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert.

Seybert wrote in her 26-page ruling that “while Koskoff and plaintiff share certain traits, Koskoff was created as a ‘composite character’ inspired by three individuals discussed in the memoir, not as a carbon copy of plaintiff.”

Because Greene is defined as a public figure under federal law, Seybert wrote that he must demonstrate the movie studios showed actual malice in their portrayal of him.

“Even assuming there are issues of fact regarding whether the Koskoff character is ‘of and concerning’ plaintiff, his libel claim fails because he has not introduced evidence that defendants acted with actual malice in making false statements ‘of and concerning’ him,” Seybert ruled.

In dismissing the case, the judge considered several angles, including the fictionalized nature of the movie and “the undisputed facts that the Koskoff character is a composite of three people and has a different name, nickname, employment history, personal history, and criminal history than plaintiff.”

Seybert also noted the movie’s disclaimer in the ending credits, which states that “while this story is based on actual events, certain characters, characterizations, incidents, locations and dialogue were fictionalized or invented for purposes of dramatization.”

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