On February 27, 2019, the Sixth Circuit dismissed a defamation suit brought by Portia Boulger (“Boulger”) against actor James Woods (“Woods”), claiming Woods tweeted a false story about Boulger and questioned if she was a “plant” who did a Nazi salute at a Donald Trump rally.
In a published unanimous decision by the Sixth Circuit, the panel found that an Ohio federal court got the result right when it granted famous actor, James Woods, summary judgment in the suit, who was misidentified on Twitter by Woods as a woman giving a Nazi salute at a rally for then-candidate Trump.
The Court concluded: “The tweet at issue is reasonably susceptible to both a defamatory meaning – that Woods was asserting Boulger was the woman giving the Nazi salute – and an innocent meaning – that Woods was merely asking his followers a question,” the panel said. “Because Woods’s tweet could reasonably be read to have an innocent meaning, under the innocent construction rule the tweet, as a matter of law, is not actionable.”
At a March 2016 Trump rally, a woman, later identified as Trump supporter Birgitt Peterson (“Peterson”), was photographed giving what appeared to be a Nazi salute. The photo was posted on Twitter by the Chicago Tribune.
Shortly thereafter, a Twitter user – not Woods – posted a picture of the woman and of Boulger, identifying her as the person who runs the Women for Bernie Sanders Twitter account, the panel said.
Woods had more than 350,000 followers on the platform at the time.
U.S. Circuit Judges John B. Nalbandian, R. Guy Cole Jr., and Helene White sat on the panel for the Sixth Circuit.
Boulger is represented by Joe Sandler of Sandler Reiff Lamb Rosenstein & Birkenstock PC.
Woods is represented by Patrick Kasson of Reminger Co. LPA.
The case is Portia Boulger v. James Woods, case number 18-3170, in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit.
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