Scottie Pippen Fouls Out in Lawsuit Against Media Outlets
The former NBA star filed a lawsuit in 2011 over false bankruptcy reports.
Aug. 25, 2013— -- A federal appeals court judge affirmed the dismissal of former Chicago Bulls all-star Scottie Pippen's suit against a number of media outlets on the grounds that the 1992 "Dream Team" player failed to make the case that they "falsely or recklessly" published information about his personal finances that wasn't true, the ruling issued Wednesday said.
The seven-time NBA All Star initially filed a lawsuit in December 2011, claiming a number of websites reported that he had filed for bankruptcy, when he had done no such thing, according to the ruling.
The controversy was sparked by a number of 2011 stories about NBA athletes and bankruptcy, the original complaint stated.
A story on CNBC.com entitled "15 Athletes Gone Bankrupt," said Pippen lost "career earnings worth $120 million, including over $4 million for a corporate jet that was grounded just months after he bought it," according to the original complaint. Subsequently, a number of stories were published reporting similar information about Pippen's reported financial woes.
Pippen alleged his endorsement and personal appearance opportunities dwindled as a result of the false accusations. He sued a host of defendants including the CBS Corporation and NBCUniversal Media, arguing he had been defamed and cast in a false light, according to court documents.
The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division dismissed Pippen's case. While a number of the suits were terminated in 2012, he then appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, according to court documents.
While Pippen argued that the media companies' reports caused his prospective deals to shrink after they were published online, the judge ruled out that there was a causal relationship.
"Since Pippen's opportunities diminished after the statements were made, he believes they must have diminished because the statements were made," the judge wrote. "This theory of causation is weak for professional athletes, whose earning related to past stardom drop as time passes since their playing days."
Since he retired from basketball, Pippen has worked as a television sports analyst, a goodwill ambassador for the Chicago Bulls and a celebrity product endorser, the ruling said. He currently works as a special advisor to the president and COO of the Bulls, Michael Reinsdorf, a position he's held since October 2012.
The judge said Pippen failed to make the case that the websites "either knew the statements to be false or were recklessly indifferent to whether they were true or false," according to the ruling.
To make matters more interesting, the judge invoked the Supreme Court ruling that "actual malice cannot be inferred from a publisher's failure to retract a statement once it learns it to be false."
While Pippen reached out via email to inform websites that he had not filed for bankruptcy, the judge said the former forward cannot sue them under the Illinois statute known as the Uniform Single Publication Act, which relieves publications from defamation suits if false claims are made at the time of first publication, according to the ruling.
Pippen's attorneys tried to make the case that the act did not apply to websites, but the judge disagreed.
While Illinois courts haven't considered how the single-publication rule applies to information online, the judge wrote "our job is to predict how the state's highest court would answer the question if asked."
Excluding the Internet from the rule would "expose online publishers to potentially limitless liability," the ruling said.
"Pippen does not contend the defendants took any action beyond initially posting the stories to their websites, and we conclude that Illinois would deem the passive maintenance of a website not a republication," according to the ruling.
Pippen's attorney, Arthur Gold, told ABCNews.com he disagreed with the decision made by the Seventh Circuit, saying "they didn't focus on what the key issues [in the case] were."
"We will be discussing with our client what options are available," Gold said with regard to next steps.
A spokesman for the Chicago Bulls delcined to comment to ABC News.
An attorney for NBCUniversal declined to comment.
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