Scripps defeats libel lawsuit against former ‘Windy City Rehab’ star – The Hollywood Reporter
Scripps has won a libel and libel lawsuit from a contractor featured on HGTV’s home improvement show Windy City Rehab who alleged that he was falsely portrayed as the series’ villain and blamed for crimes he did not commit.
Sacramento Judge Richard Sueyoshi ruled on Tuesday that Scripps and Big Table Media producers’ portrayal of Thomas Eckhardt was covered by First Amendment free speech protections. It concluded: “The defendant has demonstrated that the entire claim arose out of an act to promote his right to petition or his freedom of expression and the plaintiff has failed to establish that there is a likelihood that he prevails over the claim.”
Eckhardt, founder of real estate development firm Greymark Development Group and entrepreneur who appeared on the show, sued Scripps in September for his portrayal in the show’s second season.
Eckhardt says the breakdown of his business relationship with Alison Gramenos, the show’s executive producer and host, became the main focus of the series, which portrayed him as the villain and his partner as an “innocent, oblivious victim.” . The duo was plagued with issues of unpaid subcontractors and property taxes, misuse of construction loan proceeds and budget variances. He alleges that Scripps, which operates HGTV as an affiliate of Discovery, inappropriately aired false statements made by Gramenos placing blame solely on him.
Sueyoshi concluded in an interim ruling that the complaint met two of the three standards required to allege libel and libel, but failed to prove that Scripps acted maliciously, a necessary demonstration. The order is based on a California law allowing early dismissal of cases aimed at chilling free speech.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Eckhardt’s attorney, Daniel Hogan, sought to keep the case alive. He argued that the show’s producers had foreknowledge to suspect that the statements made by Gramenos were untrue and that they should have investigated.
“They knew they were relying on an unreliable source based on her prior false public statements and the fact that she had been sued multiple times for fraud,” he said. “They knew she harbored animosity against the complainant, and they did not investigate.”
Scripps attorney Aaron Moss responded that Scripps should have “maintained serious doubts about the truth” and ignored them for claims dependent on a display of malice to survive.
Not investigating is not enough, he continued, as Eckhardt never spoke about what he saw as Gramenos’ lies before the show’s second season aired.
Moss said of Eckhardt: “He knew he had been accused of financial malfeasance and yet when the trailer aired shortly before season two he simply said ‘this won’t be good for person “without saying anything that would suggest that Scripps was made aware of a specific lie that they should investigate.
In her interim decision, Sueyoshi pointed out that the show’s producers said in an email that there must be a “factual depiction of what happened, and unedited in a way that throws someone off.” ‘one in a bad light’.
He wrote, “Simply put, even if plaintiff produced evidence that season two was scripted/fictionalized and/or that defendant contributed storylines, it falls far short of evidence that defendant created the story. one of Gramenos’ statements and/or had no knowledge that they were false or even reason to doubt that they were true.
The judge eventually took the case under advisement. He did not indicate that everything he heard at the hearing would change his mind about the dismissal of the lawsuit.
The complaint alleges defamation, commercial libel, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, among other allegations. Eckhardt claims he suffered from depression and his business collapsed due to the show’s misrepresentation of his business dealings.
HGTV Discovery’s parent company and Windy City Rehab producers Big Table Media have been named in the lawsuit. Gramenos was not.