Tabloid Will Face Blake Shelton Libel Suit

     (CN) — A federal judge refused a tabloid’s request to strike country music star Blake Shelton’s defamation action over a cover story that Shelton has a drinking problem and was headed to rehab.
     Shelton, a performer and co-host of NBC’s “The Voice,” objected to headlines and an article in a September 2015 Bauer Publishing-owned In Touch Weekly tabloid that claimed he’s an adulterer and was in rehab for drug and alcohol problems. The headlines made provocative statements such as “Drinking vodka before noon & slurring his words — it’s worse than anyone knows” and “What he did while wasted that destroyed his marriage.”
     The singer’s marriage to country star Miranda Lambert ended in 2015.
     In October, Shelton sued Bauer, calling the story “replete with salacious falsehoods” about a purported bachelor party in Mexico, strip clubs, and hot tubs. While Shelton acknowledged that boasting publicly about drinking is “part of his act,” the complaint contends that real life does not mirror the singer’s “schtick” on TV.
     California law allows for the pretrial dismissal of actions known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs — suits that are intended to deter ordinary people from exercising their political or legal rights, the order states.
     Bauer sought protection under this statute, claiming that Shelton’s complaint infringed upon its free speech rights. But U.S. District Judge Christina A. Snyder was not moved by this argument.
     Shelton is certainly in the public eye, his jokes about binge drinking and drunkenness certainly fall within topics protected by the anti-SLAPP statute and are “entirely consistent with the public personal Shelton had cultivated,” Snyder said
     But ultimately the judge concluded that a reasonable probability exists that Shelton can produce clear and convincing evidence that the statements made by In Touch were malicious, which is enough to strike Bauer’s anti-SLAPP motion. She said the cover headline — “Rehab for Blake” — and the subheadlines within the story “alone support a claim for libel per se.”
     Furthermore, Snyder said because it appears undisputed that In Touch did not actually believe or have reason to believe that Shelton had entered rehab, Shelton sufficiently established actual malice to defeat Bauer’s anti-SLAPP motion.
     Absent a settlement, the case will head to trial.

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