Batzel v. Smith

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

09/07/2000

Status: 

Concluded

Location: 

California

Disposition: 

Dismissed (partial)

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
In September 2000, Ellen Batzel, a California attorney, sued Robert Smith, Ton Cremers, the Netherlands Museums Association ("NMA"), and Mosler, Inc. for defamation after Cremers published on an international email list an email, written by Smith, in which Smith accused Batzel of... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Robert Smith; Netherlands Museums Association; Ton Cremers; Mosler, Inc.; Does 1-50

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Location of Party: 

  • California

Location of Party: 

  • Ohio
  • North Carolina
  • Delaware
  • Netherlands

Legal Counsel: 

Robert Smith, Pro se; David D. Johnson, Eric D. Brown, Pamela S. Palmer, Steven T. Chinowsky - Latham & Watkins LLP, Stephen J. Newman - Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP (for Cremers); Robert P. Long - Kinkle Rodiger & Spriggs (for Mosler, Inc.)
Description

In September 2000, Ellen Batzel, a California attorney, sued Robert Smith, Ton Cremers, the Netherlands Museums Association ("NMA"), and Mosler, Inc. for defamation after Cremers published on an international email list an email, written by Smith, in which Smith accused Batzel of owning art stolen by the Nazis and being a descendant of Heinrich Himmler. Batzel filed identical lawsuits in both California federal court and North Carolina federal court.

In the summer of 1999, Smith contacted Cremers, who operated the Museum Security Network ("MSN") website, to notify him about his suspicions regarding Batzel, for whom Smith worked as a handyman at the time.  Smith apparently intended the email to be a private communication, and was unaware of the MSN mailing list that Cremers edited and published.  Cremers posted Smith's email to the MSN list, which is distributed via email and also posted on the MSN site, without notifying Smith that he was doing so.

Batzel became aware of the MSN list posting about her and contacted Cremers within a few months. Cremers in turn contacted Smith for clarification about his statements.  Smith affirmed his statements, but told Cremers that he would never have sent Cremers the email had he known it would appear on the MSN list. Batzel denied Smith's accusations, and in turn accused Smith of trying to defame her because she refused to help him find contacts regarding a screenplay he wrote.

Batzel filed lawsuits in both California and North Carolina in September 2000.  Smith and Mosler, Inc., a sponsor of the MSN list, both filed an answer in California, and Batzel dropped them from the North Carolina lawsuit.  The NMA did not file an answer in either suit, and the California court granted default judgment against it. 

Unaware of the North Carolina lawsuit, Cremers filed an answer in California and moved to dismiss Batzel's case under California's anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16).  In July 2001, the district court denied Cremer's motion, ruling that Batzel had shown sufficient probability of prevailing on her claims to survive an anti-SLAPP motion. The court dismissed Batzel's claims against Mosler, Inc., finding that sponsorship of the MSN list was not sufficient to impose liability.

Batzel and Cremers both appealed.  In June 2003, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the Mosler dismissal and vacated the district court's ruling on Cremers' anti-SLAPP motion.  While the court of appeals agreed that Batzel had shown a likelihood of prevailing in her defamation claim, it ruled that section 230 of the Communications Decency Act ("CDA 230") controlled the case.  The court held that, if Cremers had reasonably believed that Smith provided the email to be published on the MSN list, then CDA 230 protected him from defamation liability for publishing the content of Smith's email. Because the facts were not clear from the record, the court remanded the case to district court to determine whether Cremers had a reasonable belief that Smith had provided his email for publication.

Batzel petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear the case, but the Court denied her petition. Meanwhile, Cremers became aware of Batzel's lawsuit in North Carolina, for which he had never been served. The North Carolina court dismissed Batzel's lawsuit with prejudice in April 2001 for failure to prosecute. Cremers moved for summary judgment in California in November 2004, arguing that the doctrine of res judicata barred Batzel from suing Cremers in the California action. The district court granted the motion and dismissed the case against Cremers in March 2005.

It is unclear what happened regarding Batzel's claims against Smith.  According to the California district court's docket, all motions and orders mailed to Smith from 2004 on were returned for failure of delivery.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Email

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • SLAPP
  • Third-Party Content
  • Section 230
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • California

Source of Law: 

  • California

Court Name: 

U.S. District Court for Central District of California; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit; United States District Court for the Western District of North Carolina

Court Type: 

Federal

Case Number: 

2:00-cv-09590 (California trial); 01-56556 (California appeals)

Relevant Documents: 

CMLP Information (Private)

Priority: 

1-High