“Gangland” documentary filmmakers failed to win dismissal of a lawsuit against them Monday for disclosure of a police informant’s identity after the producers allegedly promised to keep it confidential.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals kept alive the lawsuit by a man identified only as John Doe, who was a friend of the murdered founder of Public Enemy Number 1, a white supremacist gang. Although Doe was not a member of the gang he had provided police with information about the gang.
He sued “Gangland” claiming he agreed to be interviewed for $300 but was promised his identity would be concealed. It wasn’t. “Gangland” argued Doe signed a release and knew he would be shown on the program.
Doe said he lost his job, his apartment and was threatened by gang members after his name and identify were broadcast.
The producers claimed Doe’s lawsuit was what’s known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) and is used to censor or silence individuals by saddling them with expensive litigation. “Gangland” filed an anti-SLAPP suit, which is a powerful legal tool in California to get a SLAPP suit dismissed.
To get Doe’s lawsuit dismissed, producers had to slow they were acting to further its free speech rights. Once that is done, the burden shifts to Doe to demonstrate he is likely to prevail on the merits of his underlying lawsuit.
Judge Harry Pregerson found the “Gangland” program was examining an issue of public interest and overturned the lower court ruling. He said the producers were not required to show their actions were legal.
But the court also found Doe showed he may prevail on some of his claims. Doe argued that he came to the interview wearing a scarf and hat to hide his face but was told it was unnecessary because his face would be concealed.
He said producers told him the papers he was given to sign were a receipt for his $300 payment. They claim it was a release form disclosing his real name and identity would be broadcast.
Doe said his has dyslexia, is illiterate and told the producer he had extreme difficulty reading and was discouraged from having his girlfriend read the form to him.
“Although plaintiff voluntarily agreed to do the interview, he allegedly did so on the condition that his identity be concealed,” said Pregerson. “On this record, plaintiff has shown a reasonable probability that his identity was not of legitimate publication concern,” he said.
The could found he was likely to win his claim for public disclosure of private facts, intentional infliction of emotional distress, false promise and declaratory relief.
The panel threw out Doe’s claims of negligent infliction of emotional distress and appropriation of his likeness.
The case was sent back to U.S. District Judge Andrew Guilford in Los Angeles.
Judges William Fletcher and Jacqueline Nguyen joined Pregerson.
Case: Doe v. Gangland Productions, Inc., No. 11-56325