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A federal appeals court on February 8, 2007 upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment of a defamation suit brought against Jenner & Block client Paramount Pictures by Robert Muzikowski, a Chicago man who had claimed that the movie studio’s 2001 movie, “Hardball,” was based on his life story.
Mr. Muzikowski had sued Paramount in 2001 claiming that Mr. Reeves’ character in “Hardball” was based on his life and he had been defamed by an allegedly unflattering portrayal of him in the film. The district court held and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit affirmed that actor Keanu Reeves’ character in the movie “Hardball” could reasonably be construed as pertaining to someone other than the plaintiff Robert Muzikowski, or no real person at all.
According to the Jenner & Block team of attorneys led by Partner Debbie L. Berman, the ruling is significant for defamation cases in Illinois because it highlights the recently re-affirmed vitality of the Illinois “innocent construction” rule, which required Mr. Muzikowski to show that the only reasonable construction of Mr. Reeves’ character is that he was Mr. Muzikowski.
“The ruling is also significant to Paramount because movie studios are increasingly making movies based upon or inspired by true stories or events and this will help to discourage would-be plaintiffs,” said Ms. Berman.
The Seventh Circuit also affirmed over $50,000 in sanctions that Judge Kocoras ordered Muzikowski’s counsel to pay Paramount for discovery abuses.
In addition to Ms. Berman, the Jenner & Block legal team handling this matter included Partners Barry Levenstam, Michael A. Doornweerd, and Associate Wade A. Thomson.