U. of Michigan paper faces $1 million defamation suit — in Canada
Judgment may not be enforceable in U.S.
MICHIGAN — A Canadian hockey club filed suit against the University of Michigan’s student newspaper in an Ontario court Tuesday, following a story that alleged the team offered money to a UM-bound player.
An article published last week by Matt Slovin in The Michigan Daily quoted an anonymous Ontario Hockey League source who claimed the Kitchener Rangers offered Jacob Trouba $200,000 to play for the Rangers rather than honor his commitment to the university for the upcoming year.
Had Trouba accepted money as part of a professional deal, it would nullify his NCAA eligibility.
Tuesday’s defamation lawsuit seeks $500,000 in general damages and $500,000 in punitive damages, according to a report in The Waterloo Region Record.
A court spokesman confirmed the suit — Kitchener Rangers Junior A Hockey Club v. The Michigan Daily, Matt Slovin and John Doe — was filed in the Superior Court of Justice in Kitchener. He would not provide a copy of the suit, but said no court dates on the matter have been scheduled.
The Michigan Daily defended its reporting in a statement released Thursday.
“The Daily stands behind the story and the reporter, Matt Slovin,” the statement read. “The Daily will respond to threats of legal action in an appropriate fashion.”
Ryder Gilliland, who is representing the Rangers, did not respond to multiple requests for comment as of press time.
“When you're dealing with sources, one thing you have to be very careful about is relying on a source that has a bone to pick,” Gilliland told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday. “The Kitchener Rangers are very concerned — they don't know who the source is — they're concerned that ... this was a source that was deliberately trying to cause harm to the Kitchener Rangers. Again, we don't know if that's the case, but that's a very real concern.”
Trouba and his family denied the Daily report in a statement.
“There is absolutely no truth or merit to the recent media reports that the Kitchener Rangers have offered Jacob any remuneration,” said the family's statement. “We have the utmost respect for the Kitchener Rangers and those that choose the Canadian Hockey League as an option, but Jacob will be attending the University of Michigan next fall as a student athlete.”
Adam Goldstein, Student Press Law Center attorney advocate, believes the suit does not stand much of a chance of succeeding, given that the defendants are all United States citizens and likely do not have any assets in Canada.
He said that Canadian courts have in recent years increasingly dismissed attempts at “libel tourism” — the practice of pursuing a defamation case in a country like England or Canada, rather than the U.S.
While the standard to win a libel case is more relaxed in Canada — even true statements can be libelous — collecting damages from a U.S. citizen is challenging.
If a Canadian court were to find that the Daily had defamed the Rangers, a U.S. court would have to uphold that judgment for any damages to be collected, Goldstein said.
“Ordinarily speaking, a U.S. court will enforce a foreign judgment if it’s a valid judgment under foreign law, but the one exception comes when the judgment offends the First Amendment,” he said.
That exception was cemented in 2010, when Congress passed the Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act. The SPEECH Act makes foreign libel judgments unenforceable in U.S. courts unless they satisfy First Amendment standards.
Goldstein also pointed out that neither Slovin nor any Daily staff members can be forced to cooperate with Canadian court proceedings.
At this point, the defendants have several options. If they choose to ignore the Rangers’ suit, the hockey team could win by default. And while monetary damages may not be enforceable in the U.S., the defendants could be denied entry into Canada or countries it has treaties with because of the outstanding judgment, Goldstein said.
The Daily could also retain a Canadian lawyer to contest the suit on its behalf.
Detroit-based attorney Herschel Fink, who has consulted with the Daily staff on the suit but is not yet formally representing them, added that the amount requested in damages is “meaningless,” given the differences between the court systems.
Fink declined to comment further on the specifics of the suit, saying he was not yet familiar enough with the Daily’s coverage of the Trouba allegations.
By Seth Zweifler, SPLC staff writer
defamation, news, The Michigan Daily, University of Michigan