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Blake Shelton Fights Tabloid’s Attempt to Have Defamation Lawsuit Dismissed

Blake Shelton In Touch Weekly lawsuit
Kevin Winter, Getty Images

In October, Blake Shelton filed suit against InTouch Weekly, claiming defamation and seeking more than $1 million in damages, as well as an injunction. The tabloid recently attempted to have the lawsuit dismissed, but the country star is having none of that.

In late February, InTouch publisher Bauer Publishing Company, filed a motion to strike the lawsuit, claiming that the action interferes with the publication’s First Amendment rights, and that Shelton has no probability of winning the case.

“Shelton ignores that he has staked his reputation on heavy drinking: He tweets more than 15 million Twitter followers almost daily with messages crowing about how much he drinks and is famous for his signature Twitter tagline, ‘Drunk,'” the court documents state. “Shelton also ignores the years of press — which went unchallenged by any legal claims — documenting how his ex-wife, among others, were so upset by his alcohol consumption that she told him to go to rehab. By this action, Shelton attempts to walk back a public image he created. Yet the law does not allow for selective amnesia.”

By filing this motion to strike, InTouch Weekly is leveraging California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is meant to deter legal action that infringes on First Amendment rights when an issue of public interest is involved. According to the California Anti-SLAPP Project, now that this motion has been filed, “[i]f the judge finds that the plaintiff cannot show a minimal probability of winning, the court will ‘strike’ the complaint, and dismiss the suit. The court will also order the plaintiff to pay [the defendant’s] attorneys’ fees and costs.”

However, “[i]f the court finds that [the motion to strike] is frivolous, or brought only for purposes of harassment or delay, the court will sanction [the defendant] and order [the defendant] to pay the attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the other side in opposing [the] motion.” The lawsuit will then move forward.

In opposition papers, Shelton’s lawyer, Larry Stein, argues that a “celebrity’s private medical condition is not an issue of public interest.”

Shelton’s original lawsuit stems from a September cover story that alleged that Shelton’s heavy drinking had contributed to his and Miranda Lambert’s divorce, and that he was going to rehab. A previous story from the tabloid magazine reported that Shelton had cheated on Lambert prior to their divorce. The filing explained that the country star has asked for a retraction but had received no response.

“I do not drink excessively, binge drink or have a drinking problem … I am never drunk, intoxicated or unable to perform my job on The Voice or elsewhere …,” Shelton states in a declaration. “I did not do anything while ‘wasted that destroyed [my] marriage’ … During our marriage, Ms. Lambert never begged, demanded or asked me to go to rehab … I did not handle my first divorce by drinking, nor has my drinking increased or escalated since my divorce from Ms. Lambert.

“Contrary to Bauer’s reporting, drinking has not taken a toll on my well-being. I do not now, nor have I ever had, health problems caused by or related to drinking …,” his declaration continues. “The Rehab Story is wrong that my friends, colleagues and team think I have a problem and need help. To my knowledge, nobody around me, including my managers, peers and work colleagues, and friends, thinks I have a drinking problem.”

Bauer Publishing claims that Shelton is “libel-proof” due to his tweets about drinking, which Shelton’s camp says is not the case. Shelton’s court documents also call InTouch Weekly‘s work “shoddy journalism.”

“There is nothing inherently defamatory about electing to seek treatment for drinking,” Bauer Publishing argues — but Shelton’s side thinks differently: “Accepting as true that changing social mores have led to an increased number of people with empathy for people suffering from alcoholism, Bauer is not immunized from liability for defamation where a respectable minority still views the Rehab Story with contempt.”

The next hearing in this case will take place on April 11.

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