By: Phoebe A. Taurick, Esq.
A federal court in Minnesota has held that Jesse Ventura can move forward with his claims of defamation, invasion of privacy/appropriation, and unjust enrichment against a former Navy SEAL sniper. The defendant had written in his published autobiography that he punched Ventura for making derogatory statements about the war in Iraq while at the wake of a fellow SEAL in a California bar.
Ventura's lawsuit claimed that the encounter never happened, and that the defendant was using this false story to promote sales for his book. The defendant moved to dismiss the lawsuit; however, the court rejected the defense that the First Amendment protected the defendant's statements if, as Ventura's complaint alleged, they were knowingly false or defamatory. Under the invasion of privacy/appropriation claim, a defendant is liable if he "appropriates to his own use or benefit the name or likeness of another." A defendant is liable for unjust enrichment if he "has knowingly received or obtained something of value for which [he] in equity and good conscience should pay." The court held that based on the allegations in Ventura's complaint these claims potentially could succeed at trial and refused to dismiss them.
Although this lawsuit does not involve an employment relationship between the parties, the claims involved - defamation, invasion of privacy, and unjust enrichment - are commonly brought between employers and their employees. Therefore, this case holds lessons for employers and individuals alike. One obvious lesson is not to make, much less publish, false statements about anyone. Another lesson is not to attempt to make money off false statements about another. The biggest lesson, however, may be that it is unwise to punch out a Navy SEAL...even if you are one yourself!