Defamation By Twitter: NBA Ref Files Suit


An NBA referee officiating the Minnesota Timberwolves January 24th 125-129 loss to the Houston Rockets has sued an AP reporter for defamation over a Tweet.

Bill Spooner has officiated over 1,000 regular season games and over 50 play-off games. During the game, Spooner called a foul on Minnesota during the second period. Timberwolves head coach Kurt Rambis loudly disagreed with the call.

Shortly thereafter AP reporter Jon Krawczynski tweeted: “Ref Bill Spooner told Rambis he’d “get it back” after a bad call. Then he made an even worse call on Rockets. That’s NBA officiating folks.” The Tweet is still online.

Spooner has filed a defamation suit in the U.S. District
Court – District of Minnesota. The suit claims that Krawczynski’s tweet “falsely attributed” the comments to Spooner and “stated and implied that [Spooner] was then engaged in fixing the game.” Spooner’s suit asks for damages in excess of $75,000.

A defamatory statement is generally one which:
1) Causes harm to the plaintiff’s reputation;
2) Is published or communicated to third-parties;
3) The defendant knew or should have known was false.

Truth is typically a defense to a defamation claim. Additionally, if the allegedly defamatory statement was made against a public figure, typically instead of simply showing that a reasonable person knew or should have known the statement was false, the plaintiff will have to prove that the defendant acted with actual malice or reckless disregard for the truth when making the statement. Spooner’s complaint sets out several factors as to why he should not be considered a public figure, including that he does not grant media interviews and does not seek out contact with the public.

Defamation cases involving Twitter are becoming more common as Twitter’s popularity increases. Perhaps the most notable Twitter defamation lawsuit involved Hole singer Courtney Love, who recently settled a defamation lawsuit brought by fashion designer Dawn Simorangkir for $430,000.