(CN) – A New Jersey appeals court threw out Donald Trump’s defamation claims against the author and publishers of a book that claims the magnate’s riches are less vast than believed.
Trump sued the author and publishers of “TrumpNation, The Art of Being the Donald.”
In the tome, journalist Timothy O’Brien says Trump and his staff have estimated the real estate mogul’s value at between $1.7 billion and $6 billion. But three anonymous sources told “TrumpNation” that Trump’s actual wealth tips the scales at $150 million to $250 million.
A judge in Camden, N.J., dismissed Trump’s lawsuit, and the appellate division in Trenton affirmed Wednesday, rejecting Trump’s claim that O’Brien showed “actual malice.” The “Apprentice” star also sought to hold the publishers, Time Warner Book Group and Warner Books, liable for damages.
Writing for a three-member panel, Judge Edith Payne said there was “no evidence to support Trump’s conclusion that the confidential sources utilized by O’Brien were fictitious.”
“O’Brien has certified that he re-interviewed his three confidential sources prior to publishing their net worth estimates, and he has produced notes of his meetings with them both in 2004 and in 2005,” the 30-page decision states. “The notes are significant, in that they provide remarkably similar estimates of Trump’s net worth, thereby suggesting the accuracy of the information conveyed,” the judge wrote.
Payne said O’Brien did not cite “sources’ views as fact, but instead utilized their lower figures as an illustration of the spread in estimates of Trump’s wealth, while suggesting that, in his own view, Trump’s net worth was far less than he claimed it to be.”
In the book, Trump dismissed the sources as naysayers, telling O’Brien: “The guys who really know me know I’m a great builder.”
The judge said Trump’s reaction was “less of a denial than an avoidance of the issue presented.” In any case, “publication of a statement in the face of denial, however vehement, does not constitute actual malice,” she said.
“While O’Brien may have had ‘unprecedented’ access to evidence of Trump’s financial position, nothing in the record suggests that such access was sufficient to permit an accurate estimate of his net worth,” Payne added. “Further, it is indisputable that Trump’s estimates of his own worth changed substantially over time and thus failed to provide a reliable measure against which the accuracy of the information offered by the three confidential sources could be gauged.”
The judge cited Trump’s deposition as “illustrative of this point.”
Trump had testified that his estimation of his own wealth fluctuated depending on his “attitudes and feelings.”
“My own feelings, as to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day,” he said. “Then you have a September 11th, and you don’t feel so good about yourself and you don’t feel so good about the world and you don’t feel so good about New York City. Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. Even months after that it was a different feeling. So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value to myself.”
The court also tossed claims that O’Brien disregarded the “Trump” brand.
“Under generally accepted accounting principles, reputation is not considered a part of a person’s net worth,” Payne said.
“Trump contends that O’Brien acknowledged that his name was a valuable asset, calling it ‘bigger than Coke and Pepsi,'” according to a footnote of the ruling. “That statement is incorrect. The claim was reported in a BusinessWeek article as emanating from Trump himself.”
The court rejected all other claims on appeal.
“As a consequence of the foregoing, we find no triable issue as to the existence of actual malice in this matter, and for that reason, affirm summary judgment for O’Brien,” Payne wrote. “Absent actual malice on his part, respondeat superior liability cannot arise. Thus we find that summary judgment was also properly granted to the publishing defendants.”
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