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Highlights of Manning’s motion for summary judgment in defamation case


KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 29: # of the South Carolina Gamecocks # of the Tennessee Volunteers during their game on October 29, 2005 at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tennessee. (Photo By Streeter Lecka)

Streeter Lecka

The 74-page document published six days ago by the New York Daily News told only one side of the lawsuit filed by Jamie Naughright against Peyton Manning and others for defamation of character. Naughright’s lawyers crafted the 74-page document to stave off Manning’s “motion for summary judgment,” a common tool in civil litigation aimed at persuading a judge to find that a case can be resolved without putting any factual disputes in front of a jury.

Basically, the defendant who files a motion for summary judgment says to the judge, “Assume everything that the plaintiff contends is true. Even then, the plaintiff can’t win this case.”

PFT has now obtained and reviewed the briefs submitted in support of Manning’s effort to obtain summary judgment. Key excerpts of the documents, with explanation when necessary, appear below.

In the opening, 52-page brief, the most biting paragraph against Naughright’s case was the first. The full text of it appears below.

“This is the story,” Manning’s lawyers wrote, “of a collegiate athletic trainer who parlayed a minor incident with one of the most well-known athletes in the country into a $300,000 settlement with the University of Tennessee and then went on to a small Florida college for collect another settlement check of $65,000 after being properly transferred to another position at the college. She now has filed this baseless libel suit seeking another substantial settlement from the celebrity athlete, his equally well-known father, a noted sportswriter, and a major book publisher based on a few paragraphs in a book that never even identified her by name. By this suit, the libel plaintiff seeks to settle old scores with the famous college athlete and with former colleagues at the University of Tennessee and at Florida Southern College by dragging them through extended discovery while hoping to have yet another financial windfall at the end of the day. This misuse of the legal system must end.”

The 52-page brief then went on to summarize the facts of the case from the defendants’ perspective. Less than a full page was devoted to the much-disputed “mooning” incident of 1996. The full text of the defendants’ characterization of that incident is as follows, with citations to the record of the case omitted.

“On February 29, 1996, Plaintiff and Peyton Manning were both in a training room in the athletic facility at UT,” Manning’s lawyers explained. “While the exact details of what occurred in the training room are disputed, the parties are in universal agreement that Peyton Manning dropped his shorts and exposed his rear end and that Plaintiff saw the exposed rear end (the ‘Mooning Incident’). . . . Peyton Manning’s description of the Mooning Incident is set forth in his Affidavit. . . . Significantly, what exactly occurred in the training room is not at issue in this motion. Upon learning, as discussed below, that Plaintiff was upset by the Mooning Incident, Peyton Manning attempted to visit Plaintiff at her office on March 1, placed several calls to Plaintiff’s home, and sent her a card apologizing for his behavior. . . . In addition, Peyton Manning was disciplined by his coach Phillip Fulmer for his behavior by being required to run every morning at 6 a.m. for two weeks. . . . As part of his punishment, Peyton Manning was also banned for a period of time from eating at his usual location, the training table in Gibbs Hall, which caused a severe disruption in his training regimen.”

The description of the incident mentioned an affidavit of Peyton Manning, which has been widely circulated on the Internet in recent days. The “Mooning Incident” is described at paragraphs 6 through 19. Manning contended that, while wearing “a pair of shorts and a jock strap,” his foot was being examined by Naughright, and he was talking to Malcolm Saxon, who was sitting a few tables away from Manning.

“Once off the table, [Naughright] moved behind me so that she could examine my foot,” Manning said at paragraph 8 of the affidavit. “At that point, Mr. Saxon made a comment to me intended as a joke regarding my then-girlfriend (now my wife), the substance of which I cannot recall. After hearing his comment, I pulled down my shorts for about one second to expose my buttocks to him, or as is colloquially known, to ‘moon’ him.”

At paragraphs 9 and 10, Manning said, “I immediately pulled my shorts back up while [Naughright] continued to examine my foot. My shorts were never down farther than exposing my buttocks. I did not pull them down to my ankles. [Naughright] then finished examining my foot, told me to get back up on the table, and said that I should get some ice on my foot. I then iced my foot, during which time [Naughright] stayed in the training room. I iced my foot for fifteen or twenty minutes, the standard time for such a treatment. During this time [Naughright], who remained in the training room, did not seem uncomfortable or upset.”

(Saxon would later dispute Manning’s version of the events directly in an affidavit, and indirectly in a December 2002 letter to Peyton Manning. Surprisingly, Saxon never was questioned under oath in the lawsuit.)

At paragraph 13 of Manning’s affidavit, he explained that Tennessee head trainer Mike Rollo “came to my apartment around 11 p.m.” and “asked me whether or not anything had happened with [Naughright] earlier in the day, and because I did not believe that she saw my mooning of Mr. Saxon and she never raised any issues with me, I said no. He asked again and I asked him if it had anything to do with my mooning Mr. Saxon, to which he said yes. I was surprised to hear from Mr. Rollo that night she was upset.”

At paragraphs 14 through 17, Manning described various efforts to contact Naughright and to apologize to her for whatever it was that happened, culminating in the sending of a card to her on March 14.

To summarize, Manning admitted to dropping his pants, claimed that it was a “mooning” meant for Malcolm Saxon (who would later dispute portions of Manning’s story), and believed Naughright didn’t see what had happened. Manning also essentially admitted that, later that night, enough of a stir had been created to result in a late-night visit from the school’s head trainer, followed by repeated efforts by Manning to personally apologize.

Next in the 52-page brief, Manning’s lawyer devoted ample space to outlining the specific legal arguments that justified judgment in the defendants’ favor. The first argument arose from a statutory technicality, requiring five days notice to be provided before the filing of certain types of defamation cases in Florida. The second argument centered on the disputed passages from the book on which the lawsuit was based, claiming that the excerpts are “substantially true.” As part of the second argument, the defendants claimed that the statements at issue were expressions of opinion not fact. (An expression of opinion cannot give rise to a claim for defamation.)

The third argument contended that Naughright had become a “public figure,” which makes a defamation case harder to prove by requiring clear and convincing proof of actual malice in the publication of false information. The fourth argument focused on the absence of clear and convincing proof of actual malice. The fifth argument claimed that none of the defendants acted with negligence in the publication of the disputed passages in the book.

After filing the effort to secure “summary judgment,” Naughright’s lawyers wrote and submitted the much-discussed 74-page document, published a week ago by the Daily News. Manning’s lawyers then had the last word (which is normal protocol), submitting a seven-page “reply memorandum” in support of the motion.

“This case is about whether a reasonable reader of the book Manning could conclude that two discrete passages that refer to, without naming, Plaintiff Jamie Naughright defame Plaintiff,” Manning’s lawyers wrote in the first paragraph of the reply brief. “In her Opposition Papers, Plaintiff goes to great lengths to create the illusion that there is something more at issue here. But Plaintiff’s seventy-four pages of self-serving ‘facts’ and extraordinary one-sided rhetoric are simply a diversion. This Court should concentrate on the contents of the Book itself.”

The remainder of the seven-page reply brief contained mostly legal analysis, with a couple of key exceptions. At page 4, Manning’s lawyers wrote that, in her 74-page document, “Plaintiff claims for the first time to have been ‘assaulted’ by Peyton Manning.” At page 5, Manning’s lawyers addressed Naughright’s claim that the Manning book characterized her as litigious: “First, the Passages do not state that Plaintiff is litigious. And, even if they did, by Plaintiff’s own admission, she is litigious! Plaintiff has started administrative proceedings against and/or threatened to sue the only two employers she has ever had in her academic career. And she has sued five separate Defendants in this action, which arises out of precisely the same facts that gave rise to her legal proceedings and threats against UT and Florida Southern College.” (She would later sue fashion designed Donna Karan and others for injuries allegedly inflicted by a physical therapist in Karan’s Manhattan apartment.)

The presiding judge denied the motion for summary judgment, putting the case on track for trial. In a separate post, we’ll explain the judge’s decision.

Meanwhile, later today I’ll be recording for the first time a special PFT Live podcast (which makes it, you know, not “live”) aimed at explaining the case to those who have never practiced law, have never gone to law school, and/or have never watched My Cousin Vinny.