Three-and-a-half years after filing a lawsuit over false allegations comparing him to Bernie Madoff, a California real estate professional and his company were recently awarded more than $38 million by a federal jury.
On February 17, Bradley Cohen—founder and CEO of a Los Angeles-based real estate investment firm, Cohen Asset Management, Inc. (CAM)—and his company were awarded $35.3 million in damages for defamation per se and false light invasion of privacy, plus an additional $3 million in punitive damages.
In August 2012, Cohen and CAM filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Nevada, against a company, its owner and an employee, for comparing Cohen and CAM to Bernie Madoff and Madoff’s former company on a pair of websites. Madoff, of course, was sentenced to prison in 2009 for a maximum 150 years for running what is believed to be the largest financial fraud ever in the United States.
The first website (http://bradley-cohen.com) went live in April 2012 but was quickly removed by the web hosting company, according to the above-hyperlinked Law360 article. However, a second similar website (http://bradleyscohen.com) was anonymously-registered on May 2 and remains online as of the publication of this blog post.
This second website asks both “Is Bradley S. Cohen the Bernie Madoff of real estate?” and “Is Bradley S. Cohen the Next Bernie Madoff?,” followed by Cohen’s photo and Madoff’s mugshot, as well as a list of purported “alarming similarities” between Cohen and Madoff.
According to Cohen and CAM’s trial brief, as reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal, two of the three defendants in the matter—the Seattle-based Northwest Territorial Mint and its owner, Ross Hansen— “are disgruntled former tenants” of a CAM-affiliated entity. That entity reportedly had sued Hansen and his company in 2012 for contaminating the property it leased to them and ultimately collected $3 million in damages.
Courts around the country have awarded significant monetary judgments to victims of internet defamation in the past. In 2006, a jury in Florida awarded a woman $11.3 million for defamatory online postings, believed at the time to be the largest award for online postings.
A Texas couple was awarded nearly $14 million in 2012 based on more than 25,000 comments published about them on Topix.com, but that award was soon after thrown out by the judge. The defendants in this Nevada matter are likely to appeal and, of course, hope to achieve a similar result.
Internet defamation plaintiffs are not always able to prove actual damages, but some reputational attacks are so egregious that they can support an award of damages.
Last summer, we wrote about a Pennsylvanian businessman who was awarded nearly $3.05 million for similar online postings, while a Florida attorney was just recently awarded $350,000 relating to a series of online reviews about her.