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SLAPP007 – Proving Actual Malice in a Defamation Action – Makaeff v. Trump University

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station description California Anti-SLAPP Law, Motions and Strategies
California SLAPP Law
Duration: 28:23
A great anti-SLAPP decision that has been five years in the making. In this podcast, we discuss the case of Makaeff v. Trump University, which contains an outstanding discussion of limited public figures and meeting the standard for showing actual malice. Here are the facts:
Between August 2008 and
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A great anti-SLAPP decision that has been five years in the making. In this podcast, we discuss the case of Makaeff v. Trump University, which contains an outstanding discussion of limited public figures and meeting the standard for showing actual malice. Here are the facts:
Between August 2008 and June 2009, Tarla Makaeff attended approximately seven real estate investing and finance seminars, workshops, and classes hosted by Trump University and spent a total of approximately $60,000 on the programs. Although Trump University asserted Makaeff was satisfied with the services Trump University provided to her, noting that Makaeff frequently provided excellent reviews of the programs, Makaeff stated the Trump University programs she attended were unsatisfactory. Specifically, Makaeff alleged the programs were shorter than advertised, she was provided only a toll-free telephone number instead of a one-year mentorship of “expert, interactive support,” and her Trump University mentors were largely unavailable and offered no practical advice when she did speak with them.
In addition, Makaeff alleged she was told by Trump University staff to raise her credit card limits to purchase real estate, but once she did, she was pressured by Trump University staff to instead use her elevated credit to purchase the Trump Gold Elite seminar for $34,995.  Makaeff also claimed she was told by Trump University staff that her first real estate transaction after signing up for the Trump Gold Elite program would earn her approximately the amount she spent on the Trump Gold Elite program, which it did not. Additionally, Makaeff alleged Trump University instructed her to engage in illegal real estate practices, such as posting advertising “bandit signs” on the sides of roadways. On June 18, 2009, Makaeff received a letter from the Orange County District Attorney’s Office informing her that posting bandit signs in California without lawful permission could subject her to fines, a misdemeanor charge, and up to six months in jail.
Makaeff brought a class action lawsuit against Trump University on April 30, 2010.  On May 26, 2010, Trump University filed a defamation counterclaim against Makaeff, alleging Makaeff “published statements to third parties about Trump University orally, in writing and on the Internet that are per se defamatory, including many completely spurious accusations of actual crimes.” Trump University alleged Makaeff’s defamatory statements were a substantial factor in causing actual and significant economic damages amounting to or exceeding $1,000,000. Madaeff responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, which was originally denied, but on appeal the Ninth Circuit determined that Trump University was a limited public figure, and send the case back to the District Court for a determination as to whether Trump University could still state a prima facie case, given the higher “actual malice” standard.
How was the case decided? Listen to the podcast to find out.
Cases discussed in the podcast (in bold), taken from the opinion:
To prove actual malice, a defamation plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant knew her statements were false at the time she made them, or that she acted with reckless disregard of the truth or falsity of the statements made.  Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323, 328, 94 S. Ct. 2997, 41 L. Ed. 2d 789 (1974).  The clear and convincing standard “requires that the evidence be such as to command the unhesitating assent of every reasonable mind.” Rosenaur v. Scherer, 88 Cal. App. 4th 260, 105 Cal. Rptr. 2d 674, 684 (Ct. App. 2001).  “A defamation plaintiff may rely on inferences drawn from circumstantial evidence to show actual malice.”  Christian Research Inst. v. Alnor, 148 Cal. App. 4th 71, 55 Cal. Rptr.
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