Zhang v. China Free Press, Inc.

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: 

06/14/2012

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

California

Disposition: 

Lawsuit Filed

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
Zhang Ziyi is an international motion picture actress who has appeared in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha. On June 14, 2012, Zhang filed a complaint in the Central District of California against the corporation China... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Weican Null Meng; China Free Press, Inc.

Type of Party: 

Individual

Type of Party: 

Individual
Organization

Location of Party: 

  • China

Location of Party: 

  • North Carolina

Legal Counsel: 

Weican Null Meng: Marc J Randazza, Jason A Fischer (Randazza Legal Group); China Free Press, Inc.: Howard Loring Rose, James Rosenfeld, John Rory Eastburg, Kelli L Sager (Davis Wright Tremaine LLP)
Description

Zhang Ziyi is an international motion picture actress who has appeared in films such as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Memoirs of a Geisha. On June 14, 2012, Zhang filed a complaint in the Central District of California against the corporation China Free Press, Inc., alleged to be doing business as Boxun News, and Boxun News's owner, Weican Null Meng. The complaint alleged five claims: (1) libel per se, (2) false light invasion of privacy, (3) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, (4) negligent interference with prospective economic advantage, and (5) unlawful and unfair business practices under California's Business and Professional Code.

The complaint asserted that Boxun News published three articles on its website that included statements that Zhang was a prostitute who had sexual relations with Chinese government officials, among others, and that she received "outlandish payments" for doing so. One article, it stated, claimed that Zhang was under investigation by Chinese authorities and had been banned from leaving China. According to the complaint, these reports had been republished by other media outlets around the world. The plaintiff claimed that the defendants "willfully, knowingly, oppressively, and maliciously conspired" to publish false and defamatory statements about Zhang in order to "damage her, harm her, expose her to hatred, contempt, ridicule and obloquy, damage her business, and wrongfully promote their own business interests" at her expense. In filing suit, Zhang sought: general, special, and punitive damages; attorney's fees; and injunctive relief.

On August 15, 2012, defendant Meng filed a motion to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction. Meng, a resident of North Carolina, said he administered the Boxun News website from North Carolina and that the site's servers are leased from a Texas company. He claimed that the site generates no revenue and has limited user interaction. Thus, Meng asserted that his contacts with California did not satisfy due process. He argued that the claims did not arise from his California activities, and that there was no foreseeable harm from the allegedly tortious material. Meng also disputed Zhang's assertion that China Free Press was doing business as Boxun, stating that they were separate and distinct entities.

On August 17, 2012, while his motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction was pending, Meng filed a special motion to strike the complaint under California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16 -- California's anti-SLAPP statute. Meng asserted that he fulfilled the requirements under § 4.25.16 because (1) his expressive conduct was made in furtherance of his right of petition or free speech, and (2) his speech was connected to a public issue. He claimed that Boxun News' status as a news reporting agency, and publishing a story dealing with "corruption at high levels of the Chinese government, are archetypical examples of conduct made in furtherance of protected speech." Because the allegedly defamatory statements included allegations of Zhang having allegedly unlawful affairs with Bo Xilai, a prominent politician in the Chinese Central Communist Party, the motion stated, the allegations were incidental to "a major political scandal." Thus, Meng argued that because Bo Xilai's fitness for an office of public trust was involved, reporting on the alleged affair was a matter of public interest. The motion stated, "While some elements of the scandal may seem trite, our own country's experience shows us that from seemingly small sexual acts, great political consequences may flow."

The motion to strike claimed that because Zhang was a public figure, due to her international fame, she needed to prove that Meng published the statements with actual malice. He claimed that she could not satisfy this, as Meng had relied on information from trusted sources, verified the information with an independent source, and adhered to proper journalistic standards practiced by mainstream newspapers. Meng also claimed that his sources were entitled to anonymity for this matter and that "outing them for prosecution in China [was] the sole purpose of this litigation." He argued that the underlying information was "too politically sensitive" for distribution without anonymity protections, stating, "This is no mere conjecture: Boxun reporters have been imprisoned for their contributions to the site." In his motion, Meng sought dismissal of the case, as well as costs and attorney's fees.

On January 4, 2013, Zhang filed oppositions to both of Meng's motions. In her opposition to Meng's motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, Zhang claimed that the court could exercise jurisdiction because Meng purposefully directed his conduct in California, Zhang's harm was likely to be felt in California, and Meng did not satisfy his burden to present a compelling case that the exercise of jurisdiction would be unreasonable.

Zhang's opposition to Meng's motion to strike argued that Meng failed to meet his burden under the anti-SLAPP statute. Zhang asserted that as a news outlet, Boxun News was not considered a public forum protected under the statute. She argued that the defamatory statements did not concern a matter of public interest -- giving examples of statements saying Zhang had several boyfriends -- as they had "nothing to do with Mr. Bo's fitness for office." Therefore, the opposition claimed, the defamatory statements were not related to any major political scandal, a public issue, or any public interest. Further, the opposition argued that even if a person is a public figure, not all discussion of her is a matter of public interest.

Zhang's opposition further argued that there was a probability that the plaintiff would prevail on her claims because she could satisfy the required elements and the allegedly defamatory statements caused her to lose at least two potential jobs. Furthermore, the opposition claimed that there was clear and convincing evidence that the defamatory statements were made with actual malice because (1) Meng's sources provided unsubstantiated information that was not first-hand knowledge, (2) Meng was skeptical of about reports he received and altered an article to try to make the story more believable, (3) Meng did not attempt to contact Zhang to get her side of the story before publishing, and (4) the articles "suggest a malicious campaign [and] increasingly take on a threatening tone," going beyond the ordinary practice of journalism. Alternatively, the opposition argued that if the court needed more evidence to prove actual malice, it should deny the motion so Zhang can obtain the names of the confidential sources and complete necessary discovery.

On January 11, 2013, Meng filed responses to both of Zhang’s oppositions. In his reply in support of his motion to dismiss, Meng claimed there was no personal jurisdiction because his conduct was not directed toward California and that the court’s jurisdiction over him would be unreasonable. In Meng’s reply in support of his motion to strike, he claimed his website was a public forum under the statute because “public access, rather than the public’s ability to comment, is the hallmark of a public forum.” Meng asserted that Zhang’s “role in the Bo Xilai affair is inherently of public interest.” He argued that the public’s interest in Zhang is heightened both by her celebrity and her involvement in the scandal, nothing that “the legal and political ramifications of her reported relations with Bo Xilai are of particular public interest.”

In his reply, Meng also argued that Zhang was not likely to prevail on the merits of the case, stating that even if the allegedly defamatory statements were false, the relevant question was whether Meng knew of their falsity. Meng argued that Zhang’s evidence failed to demonstrate that she could prove this and that she had not even contacted Meng regarding this matter. He claimed that the identities of his confidential sources were unnecessary to prove actual malice, and that more discovery would “not cure what ails the Plaintiff’s case” but would prejudice Meng. Meng argued that Zhang's request for disclosure of the sources did not pass the three-part test that federal courts rely on for determining when a journalist’s sources must be disclosed, citing the 2nd Circuit case Garland v. Torre, because (1) the information sought did not go to the heart of Zhang’s claim, (2) Zhang had not presented evidence showing she had attempted to get the information from alternative sources, and (3) the sole purpose of the lawsuit was in “an effort to silence Boxun News.”

As of July 15, 2013, no hearing has been scheduled regarding the motion to dismiss or the motion to strike. 


Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
  • SLAPP
Court Information & Documents