Stormy defamation case ends in disaster … for her and her attorney Michael Avenatti
Stormy Daniels aka Stephanie Clifford has been ordered to pay Donald Trump $293,052.33 in attorneys’ fees, costs, and sanctions.
The case arose out of Daniel’s failed lawsuit accusing Trump of defamation for suggesting that Daniels fabricated her claim that she was threatened by a man to leave Trump alone.
For background on the legal proceedings, see our prior post Trump asks Court to SLAPP Stormy Daniels with $341,559.50 in legal fees plus sanctions.
The Court threw out the lawsuit, finding Trump’s commentary was protected by the First Amendment.
It’s important that Trump moved to dismiss, and the court granted dismissal, under the Texas Anti-SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] Statute because that is where Daniels resided, even though the case was in California and Trump is a New Yorker. The court reasoned:
Under New York’s choice-of-law principles, the law of the situs of the injury generally applies to a tort lawsuit involving diverse parties. See Stoyanovskiy v. Amerada Hess Corp., 286 A.D.2d 727, 728 (2001). However, in this day and age, with the publication of statements in online fora, the tort of defamation often involves a plaintiff injured in several jurisdictions. For multistate defamation actions, where the situs of the injury may be in multiple jurisdictions, “New York applies the law of the state with the most significant interest in litigation,” which generally is the state where a plaintiff is domiciled. See Lee v. Bankers Trust Co., 166 F.3d 540, 545 (2d. Cir. 1999). Plaintiff alleges in the Complaint that Ms. Clifford is a “resident of the State of Texas,” (Compl. ¶ 1), and conceded during argument on September 24, 2018 that Ms. Clifford is domiciled in Texas. (See Transcript of Proceedings at 11: 7.) Therefore, this Court applies Texas law to Plaintiff’s allegations of defamation and Defendant’s Special Motion To Dismiss/Strike. [footnote omitted]
So when the court threw out the lawsuit, it did so under the Anti-SLAPP statute, which grants the successful defendant attorney’s fees, subject to a submission of proof:
Having granted the Special Motion and denied Plaintiff leave to amend, the Court finally holds that Defendant is entitled to attorney’s fees. Texas law is unambiguous that “the TCPA requires anaward of ‘reasonable attorney’s fees’ to the successful movant.” Sullivan v. Abraham, 488 S.W.3d 294, 299 (Tex. 2016). “A ‘reasonable’ attorney’s fee ‘is one that is not excessive or extreme, but rather moderate or fair.’” Id. (quoting Garcia v. Gomez, 319 S.W.3d 638, 642 (Tex.2010)).
Trump just submitted his motion for attorney’s fees. (h/t Brad Heath Twitter)
From the Court Order awarding the specific dollar amount of fees, costs and sanctions:
Having concluded that Mr. Trump is entitled to all four sets of attorneys’ fees and costs that he seeks, the Court next addresses whether Defendant’s request is reasonable under the lodestar method. This involves answering two related questions. First, are Defendant’s requested hourly rates per attorney reasonable? Second, are the hours expended per task by attorney reasonable? The ourt addresses these questions in turn.
* * *
In reviewing the rates charged by Defendant’s attorneys, the Court agrees with Defendant that his attorneys are incredibly qualified, and that the law firm of Harder LLP has specific expertise in the fields of media and defamation law. (Mot. at 14-16.) The Court also is mindful of the fact that the instant litigation is unique in its nature and scope. It involves a defamation claim against the sitting President of the United States based on a tweet issued by the President from his personal Twitter account. (See Tr. of Proceedings at 11:8-15.) The President has used this Twitter account extensively, both during his campaign and afterwards. The litigation before this Court therefore impacts what the President may or may not say in a public forum.
Based on the unique nature of this litigation and the Court’s familiarity with the fees charged in this jurisdiction, the Court concludes that Defendant’s rate requests are reasonable. In similar First Amendment anti-SLAPP litigation involving highly qualified attorneys, a court in the Northern District of California held that experienced partners were entitled to between $880 and $995 per hour, senior associates were entitled to between $450 and $535 per hour, and junior associates were entitled to$355 per hour.
* * *
Having reviewed the billing records submitted by Defendant, the Court reduces the total amount in attorneys’ fees and costs that Defendant claims by 25%….
Defendant is entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs of $292,052.33, a 25% reduction of the total fees and costs claimed of 389,403.11.
* * *
While recognizing that some Texas courts have doubled attorneys’ fees to deter frivolous SLAPP litigation, the Court declines to impose significant additional sanctions here. Plaintiff is liable to Defendant for substantial attorneys’ fees, which is already a means to deter her from bringing SLAPP litigation in the future….
Moreover, Plaintiff is presently seeking to withdraw her other defamation claim that is before this Court, (see Notice of Motion And Motion To Amend Complaint in Stephanie Clifford v. Donald Trump et al., No. 2:18-cv-02217-SJO-FFM, ECF No. 91), and Plaintiff has not taken legal action against Defendant despite rhetorically hyperbolic statements that Defendant has made about Plaintiff in the recent past (see, e.g., Declaration of Michael Avenatti, Ex. 3, ECF No. 40-2.) Plaintiff’s unwillingness to resort to litigation in light of Defendant’s continuing use of rhetorical hyperbole suggests that Plaintiff is already being deterred from filing meritless defamation claims. To the extent that the TCPA requires this Court to impose sanctions against Plaintiff, the Court orders sanctions of $1,000. Plaintiff owes Defendant $293,052.33 in attorneys’ fees, costs, and sanctions.
Trump’s attorney Charles Harder declared total victory:
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