California Superior Court, Los Angeles County, April 21, 2009 (tentative ruling)

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  • California court says Da Ali G Show is an obvious spoof program that no reasonable person would consider as making factual statements; dismisses defamation and fraud claims against broadcaster

A California trial court granted summary judgment for Britain’s Channel 4 in a defamation and fraud action involving Da Ali G Show starring Sacha Baron Cohen.

The plaintiff had filed suit for, among other things, libel per se, slander per se, fraud, negligence and negligent misrepresentation. The court stated that whether a statement declares or implies a probably false assertion of fact is a question of fact for the court, unless the statement is susceptible to both an innocent and libelous meaning.

The court held that the allegedly defamatory statements are not reasonably understood to be statements of fact. According to the court, the program is “obviously a spoof of a serious interview program” and no reasonable person could consider the statements made by Ali G to be factual. The court noted that the Ali G character is absurd, all his statements are gibberish and intended as comedy, and that the actor portraying Ali G never strays from the character.

In addition, the plaintiff executed a release in 2006. The terms of the release are broad, applying to any actions “whether known, or unknown, now or in the future, arising out of or related to the Program.”

The court rejected the plaintiff’s assertion that she signed the release in reliance on a fraudulent promise by the defendant not to include the plaintiff’s name in a rebroadcast of the program. One element of fraud is damages. The plaintiff attested in discovery responses that the damages all flow from a rebroadcast of the program that the plaintiff knew about before executing the 2006 release. According to the court, no other damages flow from any subsequent rebroadcast, including broadcasts on YouTube.

Finally, the court held that a claim for negligent misrepresentation is only actionable regarding past or existing facts, not future events.