Could a company sue the person who helped another person sue them? According to Forbes, the now-bankrupt Gawker may try to find out. After losing a $140 million judgment to Hulk Hogan and being forced to declare bankruptcy, the media outlet may launch a lawsuit against billionaire Peter Thiel, who helped bankroll Hogan’s lawsuit. Thiel had looked for ways to get even with Gawker after they tried to out him as gay, so … good luck with a jury trial on this case:
Gawker Media is exploring options for litigation against Peter Thiel following the billionaire venture capitalist’s secret funding of lawsuits against the media company. According to a source within Gawker, the company’s legal team is looking to see if Thiel, who said he spent about $10 million funding other people’s suits, violated any laws.
“The lawyers are exploring whether this could be a case of tortious interference, racketeering or other potential claims,” said the source.
Gawker’s potential action against the early Facebook investor and PayPal cofounder comes after it filed for bankruptcy protection on Friday. That followed the decision by a Florida judge to deny Gawker’s request to stay a ruling that required it to pay $140 million to former wrestler Hulk Hogan. In March, a jury ruled that Gawker had violated Hogan’s privacy by publishing a sex tape of him with his friend’s wife and awarded him $115 million. The court later bolstered that amount by an additional $25 million for punitive damages.
FORBES was the first to reveal that Thiel had been secretly paying for the legal team behind Hogan’s lawsuits against Gawker.
Thiel’s arrangement with Hogan may have been unusual, but it’s hardly unprecedented. Non-profits have been helping fund and support lawsuits for all sorts of reasons for decades, usually prompted by ideological or partisan gain. The fact that a single individual bankrolled a private lawsuit aimed at a media entity seems to be the source of the biggest outrage, especially on the Left.
But what if the situation involved … oh, say, a former mayor of New York offering material support for a lawsuit against a gun manufacturer? It’s certainly both analogous and apt; one involves a First Amendment claim, and the other the Second Amendment. Would the same people have the same objections? I’d guess no, but I’d also hazard a guess that some of the people who are shrugging off this arrangement because of Gawker might not be anywhere near as sanguine about this hypothetical if and when it comes to pass.
A million lawyers going through a million law books might find an argument to make on tortious interference or racketeering, but either look more like a legal Hail Mary than a legitimate basis for a lawsuit. Tortious interference usually involves breaches of contract, and there was no contract between Hogan and Gawker for Thiel to induce Hogan to abrogate.
Racketeering seems even less likely, although there does seem to be evidence that Thiel is providing support to multiple plaintiffs in multiple states against Gawker. Racketeering involves activities which are already illegal, and there’s nothing illegal about filing lawsuits, unless they are so fraudulent in nature to be criminal enterprises. The results of the Hogan trial make it clear that wasn’t the situation in that lawsuit.
As the partner for the law firm involved in Gawker lawsuits points out, anyone with $100 and a lawyer can file a lawsuit:
“If a person has been wronged, he or she is entitled to be made whole,” Harder Mirell partner Charles Harder said earlier this week. “This is true whether the person pays their own legal bill, or has a law firm on contingency, or is represented by a public interest law firm, or an attorney on a pro bono case, or has someone else helping with the costs.”
Let’s say that Gawker managed to take Thiel to trial over a claim. After hearing some of the lurid testimony from the Hogan trial about Gawker’s editorial judgment and then how they exposed Thiel’s homosexuality without his consent, would any jury find for the plaintiffs? Look how well it worked out for Gawker in the Hogan lawsuit.
Perhaps Gawker should save its money for the creditors. Or perhaps they can find a billionaire to fund their lawsuit … if they find one who believes in lost causes.