Felipe Vicini, Vicini Group lying about the Price of Sugar

In the lawsuit and newspaper articles Felipe Vicini, CEO of Vicini Group stated that the film was defamatory and indentified 53 statements. They later cut that down to ONLY 7. The Vicini Group has tried to intimidate several TV station not to show the movie. They have also paid USD 1,2 Mill to a Miami PR agency to clean up their image and block negative articles in order to keep the sugar quota support from the American government......

See the movie, Believe me it's sad but true!

Read also: Felipe Vicini, Vicini Group lost legal attack on Dominican Watchdog

 

Vicini lost and now they appeal despite 90% of their statements of defamatory was incorrect:

 

United States Court of Appeals

For the First Circuit


                                                                                    

 

No. 10-2082

 

FELIPE VICINI LLUBERES AND JUAN VICINI LLUBERES,

 

Plaintiffs-Appellants,

 

v.

 

UNCOMMON PRODUCTIONS, LLC, ET AL.,

 

Defendants-Appellees.

 


 

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

 

FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS

 

[Hon. Douglas P. Woodlock, U.S. District Judge]

 


 

Before

 

Howard, Selya and Thompson,

Circuit Judges.

 


 

    Joan A. Lukey, with whom Maria G. Arlotto and Ropes & Gray, LLP were on brief, for appellants.

    Elizabeth C. Koch, with whom Thomas Curley, Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP, Jonathan M. Albano and Bingham McCutchen LLP were on brief, for appellees.

 

 


November 23, 2011

 

 

         HOWARD, Circuit Judge. This case raises issues of First Amendment law. At the center of the dispute is The Price of Sugar, a documentary film released in 2007 by film company Uncommon Productions, LLC, and its principal William M. Haney, III. The film depicts the treatment of Haitian laborers on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic. It refers by name to brothers Felipe and Juan Vicini Lluberes, senior executives of a family conglomerate that owns and operates Dominican sugar plantations. The Vicinis contend that the film is defamatory and sued the filmmakers in federal court. The filmmakers moved for summary judgment, which the court granted. The Vicinis appeal the entry of summary judgment and the denial of a motion to compel production of discovery materials.

         For the reasons that follow, we affirm in part the entry of summary judgment but otherwise vacate the judgment, vacate the order denying the motion to compel, and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I. BACKGROUND

         The controversy that spawned The Price of Sugar is well catalogued in the district court's rescript, Lluberes v. Uncommon Prod'ns, LLC, 740 F. Supp. 2d 207 (D. Mass. 2010), and we will not rehash it. Suffice it to say that the treatment of Haitian laborers on Dominican sugarcane plantations and the conditions of company towns (or bateyes) where they live have received scrutiny from many sectors for many years.

         In 2004, the filmmakers began shooting in the Dominican Republic. Much of the film follows Fr. Christopher Hartley, a Roman Catholic priest critical of the Vicinis, as he seeks to improve conditions for his parishioners in the bateyes. Those conditions, the film highlights, include shanty quarters, inadequate provisions, and little if any education for children. At several points, Fr. Hartley and the film's narration reference Vicini-owned bateyes and identify Felipe and Juan as bearing some measure of responsibility for their disrepair. The film was released publicly on March 11, 2007, at a film festival in Texas. It has since received limited screenings in a handful of major cities and other venues.

         Later in 2007, the Vicinis sued the filmmakers in federal district court in Massachusetts. Footnote Invoking the court's diversity jurisdiction, the Vicinis alleged that the film was defamatory and identified fifty-three statements, although they later winnowed the number of allegedly defamatory statements down to seven. The filmmakers seasonably moved for summary judgment on these remaining statements; they argued that Felipe and Juan were "public figures" required to prove "actual malice" in accordance with New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), and its progeny, and that the Vicinis could not so prove. The district court agreed and granted summary judgment in the filmmakers' favor.

         At the same time, the court denied a motion to compel that the Vicinis had initially filed during discovery and later renewed. The motion sought production of several categories of documents; those at issue here include communications with a third-party "script annotator" that the filmmakers had withheld on attorney-client privilege grounds. The judge did not explain his reasoning. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSIONWe begin with the public-figure question, then turn to the discovery dispute and go no further.

A. Public-Figure Status1. Defamation and the First Amendment

         Before the Supreme Court's decision in New York Times, defamation law was shaped by the states and strongly favored their interest in protecting an individual's reputation. See Bruno & Stillman, Inc. v. Globe Newspaper Co., 633 F.2d 583, 586 (1st Cir. 1980) ("Once a plaintiff put into evidence a reputation-harming statement and proof that defendant caused it to be disseminated, he enjoyed an irrebuttable presumption of injury and a rebuttable presumption of falsity."); see generally Joel D. Eaton, The American Law of Defamation Through Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. and Beyond: An Analytical Primer, 61 Va. L. Rev. 1349, 1351-57 (1975) (surveying defamation law in the various states that existed prior to New York Times).

         That balance shifted in 1964, when the Court considered whether "the constitutional protections for speech and press limit a State's power to award damages in a libel action brought by a public official against critics of his official conduct." N.Y. Times, 376 U.S. at 256. Recognizing the "profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open," id. at 270, the Court reasoned that even falsehoods "must be protected if the freedoms of expression are to have the breathing space that they need to survive," id. at 271-72 (internal quotation marks and ellipsis omitted). On that basis, the Court held that the First Amendment "prohibits a public official from recovering damages for a defamatory falsehood relating to his official conduct unless he proves that the statement was made with 'actual malice' -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not." Id. at 279-80. Footnote

         The Court soon applied the New York Times rule to nonofficial "public figures." Curtis Publ'g Co. v. Butts, 388 U.S. 130, 154-55 (1967). Under Curtis, a defamation plaintiff was to be considered a public figure when he "commanded sufficient continuing public interest and had sufficient access to the means of counter-argument to be able to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies of the defamatory statements." Id. at 155 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         For a time, the New York Times rule was also extended to private individuals. Rosenbloom v. Metromedia, Inc., 403 U.S. 29 (1971) (plurality opinion). According to the Rosenbloom plurality: "If a matter is a subject of public or general interest, it cannot suddenly become less so merely because a private individual is involved, or because in some sense the individual did not 'voluntarily' choose to become involved. The public's primary interest is in the event[.]" Id. at 43. Rather, the linchpin became simply "whether the utterance involved concerns an issue of public or general concern." Id. at 44; see also id. at 43-44 ("We honor the commitment to robust debate on public issues, which is embodied in the First Amendment, by extending constitutional protection to all discussion and communication involving matters of public or general concern, without regard to whether the persons involved are famous or anonymous.").

         The plurality's approach in Rosenbloom, however, was repudiated in Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc., 418 U.S. 323 (1974), which established the current framework. Gertz sought an accommodation between the "need to avoid self-censorship by the news media," id. at 341, on the one hand, and the "legitimate state interest underlying the law of libel," id., on the other. It did so by linking "the constitutionally required showing in a defamation action to the plaintiff's status." Pendleton v. City of Haverhill, 156 F.3d 57, 67 (1st Cir. 1998). Under this new model, public figures could succeed only on proof of actual malice as defined by New York Times. Gertz, 418 U.S. at 342. As for purely private individuals, however, the states could "define for themselves the appropriate standard of liability" so long as minimal constitutional safeguards were met. Id. at 346-47. Footnote

         Gertz identified two justifications for this public-figure/private-figure dichotomy. The first, foreshadowed in Curtis, was that "public figures usually enjoy significantly greater access to the channels of effective communication and hence have a more realistic opportunity to counteract false statements than private individuals normally enjoy." Gertz, 418 U.S. at 344. Thus, "[p]rivate individuals are . . . more vulnerable to injury, and the state interest in protecting them is correspondingly greater." Id. The second justification, which was said to be more important, was that public figures, like public officials, "have assumed roles of especial prominence in the affairs of society" and "must accept certain necessary consequences" of that status. Id. at 344-45. One such consequence is "the risk of closer public scrutiny than might otherwise be the case." Id. at 344; see also id. at 345 (reasoning that a private individual "has relinquished no part of his interest in the protection of his own good name, and consequently he has a more compelling call on the courts for redress of injury inflicted by defamatory falsehood").

         Gertz contemplated that public-figure status usually would arise in one of two ways, each with different repercussions. In one, "an individual may achieve such pervasive fame or notoriety that he becomes a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts" -- the so-called general-purpose public figure. Id. at 351. But far more commonly (and directly relevant in this case) "an individual voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular public controversy and thereby becomes a public figure for a limited range of issues" -- the so-called limited-purpose public figure. Id. That "limited range of issues" is identified "by looking to the nature and extent of an individual's participation in the particular controversy giving rise to the defamation." Gertz, 418 U.S. at 352. Footnote

         Guidance since Gertz has cautioned that a controversy must be more than a "cause célèbre," Time, Inc. v. Firestone, 424 U.S. 448, 454 (1976), or "a matter that attracts public attention," Wolston v. Reader's Digest Ass'n, 443 U.S. 157, 167 (1979). Rather, it must be shown that "'persons actually were discussing some specific question . . . [and] a reasonable person would have expected persons beyond the immediate participants in the dispute to feel the impact of its resolution.'" Bruno & Stillman, 633 F.2d at 591 (quoting Waldbaum v. Fairchild Publ'ns, Inc., 627 F.2d 1287, 1297 (D.C. Cir. 1980)). Also, to avoid improper "bootstrapping" (a concept explored further below), the controversy must predate the alleged defamation. Gray v. St. Martin's Press, Inc., 221 F.3d 243, 251 (1st Cir. 2000); Kassel v. Gannett Co., 875 F.2d 935, 941 (1st Cir. 1989); Bruno & Stillman, 633 F.2d at 591; see also Hutchinson v. Proxmire, 443 U.S. 111, 135 (1979) ("[T]hose charged with defamation cannot, by their own conduct, create their own defense by making the claimant a public figure.").

         Once a controversy is isolated, the critical question then becomes whether the plaintiff has attempted to "influence the resolution" of that controversy. See, e.g., Wolston, 443 U.S. at 168 (public figures engage "the attention of the public in an attempt to influence the resolution of the issues involved" or use a newsworthy event "as a fulcrum to create public discussion"); Firestone, 424 U.S. at 453 (public figures "thrust themselves to the forefront of any particular controversy in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved in it"); Pendleton, 156 F.3d at 69 (holding that the defamation plaintiff was a public figure because he "voluntarily injected himself" into the controversy); Bruno & Stillman, 633 F.2d at 591 (requiring a "thrusting into the vortex"). If so, the plaintiff is a public figure and bears the heavy, and often insurmountable, burden of proving actual malice.

         2. Felipe and Juan

         The filmmakers contend that Felipe and Juan are limited-purpose public figures. The Vicinis vehemently dispute that label. Although they no longer contest the existence of a public controversy, the Vicinis argue that neither of them attempted to influence its resolution. Their argument has three constituent parts and spans both time and space. First, they say they did nothing before 2003 that, standing alone, could subject them to public-figure status. Second, any conduct after 2003 that might do so, we are told, is shielded by the anti-bootstrapping principle. The third is that, whatever their conduct in the Dominican Republic, it cannot make them public figures in the United States.

         The status question is a legal one that we review de novo. Pendleton, 156 F.3d at 68; see Rosenblatt v. Baer, 383 U.S. 75, 88 (1966). We do so mindful that the inquiry is "inescapably fact-specific," Mandel v. Bos. Phoenix, Inc., 456 F.3d 198, 204 (1st Cir. 2006), and does not always lend itself to summary judgment, compare id. at 204-07 (vacating status determination because "the factual record, at the summary judgment stage, was too uncertain to warrant a legal conclusion either way about Mandel's status"), with Pendleton, 156 F.3d at 68 (affirming status determination because "[t]here is no conflict as to any material fact; the issue is whether the discerned facts suffice to establish that Pendleton acted in a way sufficient to make him a public figure for the purpose of this defamation action").

         But here, as in Pendleton, the Vicinis do not argue that the district court based its status determination on disputed facts, only that the undisputed facts were insufficient to make them public figures for the reasons outlined above. Footnote We disagree and conclude, as did the district court, that both Felipe and Juan are limited-purpose public figures. Because we ultimately reject their anti-bootstrapping argument, Footnote we find it appropriate to begin by examining all relevant conduct up to the film's release in March 2007.

         Within that span, both Felipe and Juan came to occupy leadership positions within the family businesses. Felipe began working for the company in the mid-to-late 1990s as a member of the board. He gradually became part of a small group of family members that directed the agricultural enterprise; among other things, he oversaw sugar exports and sought to ensure favorable trade policies with the United States (the largest importer of Dominican sugar) and other countries. Later he was installed as president of Grupo Vicini, the entity that manages the family's investments and coordinates initiatives on the bateyes. Juan joined the company in 2000 directly out of school in the United States. He, too, began working on the agricultural side of the business and ultimately assumed the number-two position in Grupo Vicini, under Felipe. Footnote

         Juan's role was perhaps less conspicuous, but it focused on the bateyes from the beginning. His homecoming in 2000 coincided with Fr. Hartley's controversial benediction –- delivered during a visit to Fr. Hartley's parish by the Dominican president –- that was critical of the batey system and of those, including the Vicini family, responsible for it. The strongly worded benediction caught the attention of the media, prompting the Vicinis to call a meeting with Fr. Hartley. As a result of that meeting, which both Juan and Felipe attended, Juan took on the role of humanitarian attaché to Fr. Hartley and his cause of improving conditions on the bateyes. Over the next couple of years Juan and Fr. Hartley met about a dozen more times, toured the bateyes together, and regularly spoke by telephone. Juan also hired a social worker and tasked her with identifying the most pressing items in need of resolution. Footnote

         For reasons that are not altogether clear, the Vicini-Hartley collaboration fizzled in 2003 or 2004. But rather than abandon the project, the Vicinis embraced it as their own. For instance, Juan reached out to nongovernmental organizations in order to combat HIV/AIDS in the bateyes. A newsletter reporting on the initiative described the efforts of "Casa Vicini" to "develop cooperative plans to combat HIV/AIDS, with the support of the World Bank," and included a picture of Juan signing a "participation agreement." Juan himself described initiatives like these in a letter to church officials as attempts to find a "solution" to the batey problem. And around the same time, both Juan and Felipe began courting the U.S. embassy in Santo Domingo. Juan personally escorted embassy officials on visits to the bateyes; one visit was attended by the Deputy Chief of Mission, the embassy’s second-in-command. For his part, Felipe spoke with embassy officials by telephone, including the U.S. ambassador. This outreach touched off a relationship between the Vicinis and U.S. diplomats that Felipe described as "ongoing."

         Their efforts entered a new phase in 2005. After a U.S. newspaper published an exposé critical of the batey system, the Vicinis brought in Newlink Communications, a public-relations (PR) firm based in the United States. Newlink’s proposal, signed by Felipe in April 2005, provided for a massive PR campaign in the Dominican Republic that would reach as far as the United States. Among other things, the proposal identified the need for a "strategic communications program" to deal with the "negative perceptions against the company, reaching the United States media," "[b]lock messages" critical of the Vicinis, and "[i]mprove the image and reputation of the company in the eyes of the public." It spelled out country-specific strategies, focusing on the Dominican Republic and the United States, designed to implement those general goals. And it included media training for both Felipe and Juan, in Spanish and English, such as mock interviews about the bateyes and model answers emphasizing Vicini initiatives. All told, the Newlink deal cost the Vicinis about $1.2 million.

         As it was implemented, the Vicini-Newlink PR campaign targeted several sectors within the Dominican political apparatus. A Vicini deputy arranged a series of meetings with senior Dominican officials, particularly those responsible for immigration and labor policies. Those meetings culminated in a Felipe-led tour of the bateyes that showcased Vicini initiatives to the heads of the Dominican interior and labor departments. In the ecclesiastical sector, Felipe and Juan met with the Papal Nuncio –- the Vatican’s equivalent of an ambassador –- to "get our story out" about their batey initiatives. Felipe also attended a conference of bishops to give a presentation on "Grupo Vicini’s social programs." And the press was also targeted: in a single month Felipe was pictured and quoted in three Dominican newspapers concerning the company’s "restructuring" efforts in "human resource components." He was quoted again the next month, this time about improvements in the bateyes and conditions for workers generally. Then he appeared in a documentary about the bateyes (not the film at issue here) that was broadcast on Dominican television. In it, he described efforts to build rural medical clinics, root out child labor, and bring modern mechanization to sugarcane cutting. This was followed by several "Yes to Change" events, hosted by the Vicinis to advertise their altruism, that resulted in another string of articles picturing and quoting Felipe.

         The PR campaign also targeted international media outlets and policymakers, particularly in the United States. Felipe traveled to the United States to meet with the author of the newspaper exposé referenced above. The purpose of the meeting, which took place in Newlink's Miami offices, was for the reporter "to hear the other side of the story." On another occasion, Felipe sent a deputy to a PBS interview with the stated goal of attempting "to 'flip' the story" in the family’s favor. According to Newlink records, the deputy "was prepared ahead of time for that interview with a Q&A that Newlink drew up to ensure that his answers were in keeping with the goal of maintaining the [company’s] image intact." And in late 2006, Felipe, accompanied by several Newlink team members, led a U.S. congressional delegation on a tour of Vicini bateyes. During the tour a "fact sheet" was distributed that described Vicini initiatives in detail. CNN covered the delegation and interviewed Felipe; clips of that interview aired on Anderson Cooper 360° and were rebroadcast multiple times over the next two months on CNN and its affiliates. Felipe testified that his goal during these events was "to try to get our story out, to get our side out."

         Shortly before the release of The Price of Sugar (the end of our continuum), Felipe and Juan hosted an industry luncheon in the Dominican Republic. One purpose of the luncheon was to reveal more Vicini initiatives on the bateyes. During the luncheon, journalists from several Dominican newspapers were permitted to attend and ask questions. The resulting articles highlighted the batey initiatives discussed during the event and, as before, pictured and quoted Felipe and Juan.

         All together, this conduct shows beyond hope of legitimate contradiction that Felipe and Juan are limited purpose public figures. Both leveraged their positions and contacts to influence a favorable outcome in the batey controversy. Both enjoyed access to the press and exploited it by orchestrating a PR blitz to garner public support and mute their critics. Footnote In doing so, both assumed roles of prominence for this limited purpose and the risk of closer public scrutiny that came with it.

          3. Bootstrapping and the Privilege of Reply

         The Vicinis try to avoid this conclusion by asserting that most of the above conduct is shielded by the bootstrapping taboo. The argument is as follows. All of their "public activities" occurred after and in response to an article in a Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, published in January 2003. The article included purportedly defamatory statements by Fr. Hartley, the "original defamer," that were repeated in the film four years later. Because the Vicinis would not have entered the public arena but for the El Mundo article, the filmmakers cannot invoke the Vicinis' status as a defense to the same defamation in the film.

         The argument is creative, but this case does not fit the bootstrapping mold. Bootstrapping in this context occurs when the defendant relies on his own defamatory publication to manufacture a public controversy involving the plaintiff, and thus "by [his] own conduct, create[s his] own defense by making the claimant a public figure." Hutchinson, 443 U.S. at 135. That is the logic behind the requirement that public-figure status -- whether acquired for all purposes and in all contexts or derived from a particular controversy -- predate the alleged defamation. See, e.g., Gray, 221 F.3d at 251; Kassel, 875 F.2d at 941; Bruno & Stillman, 633 F.2d at 591; see generally Smolla, Law of Defamation § 2:25 (recognizing "the media's potential for 'bootstrapping' itself into the protection of the actual malice standard by pointing to its own coverage of the plaintiff as evidence that the plaintiff is a public figure," and that in response "a number of courts have emphasized that the public controversy must 'preexist' the speech giving rise to the defamation suit").

         Here, however, the El Mundo article did not create the batey controversy. It is undisputed, at least on appeal, that the controversy began much earlier and was in full swing before Fr. Hartley arrived in the Dominican Republic and well before the El Mundo article was published in 2003. Like the Vicinis themselves, Fr. Hartley was a voice in that controversy; he was not its creator. So even if the El Mundo article served as a "blueprint" for the film -- a claim that we think the Vicinis exaggerate Footnote -- no bootstrapping occurred from which the filmmakers could have benefitted in this lawsuit.

         What the Vicinis argue, at bottom, is that their conduct fell under a so-called privilege of reply. The concept has its roots not in the First Amendment but in the common law that governed defamation suits prior to New York Times. Writ large, it allowed a defamed person to respond to the extent reasonably necessary to defend himself, even to the point of defaming his accuser. Footnote Under their theory, as we understand it, the Vicinis could publicly defend themselves against defamatory statements in the El Mundo article without sacrificing their private-figure status, as long as their response was measured and reasonable. Although not in so many words, the Vicinis ask us to graft the common-law privilege of reply onto the constitutional public-figure analysis.

         To our knowledge only one court of appeals has explicitly taken such a step. See Foretich v. Capital Cities/ABC, Inc., 37 F.3d 1541 (4th Cir. 1994). In Foretich, grandparents, accused by their daughter-in-law of molesting their infant granddaughter, made limited "public comments and appearances" to rebut her accusations. Id. at 1557-58 (granting requests for interviews, attending three press conferences, and appearing on two television shows). The court acknowledged that some of those rebuttals "were probably intended (at least in part) to influence the outcome of the custody dispute." Id. at 1563. Nevertheless, invoking the common-law privilege of reply, the court held that the grandparents' "primary motive was to defend their own good names against [her] accusations and that their public statements can most fairly be characterized as measured defensive replies to her attacks, rather than as efforts to thrust themselves to the forefront of a public controversy in order to influence its outcome." Id.

         We agree with Foretich in this limited sense: an individual should not risk being branded with an unfavorable status determination merely because he defends himself publicly against accusations, especially those of a heinous character. Pendleton, 156 F.3d at 68; see Firestone, 424 U.S. at 455 n.3; accord Clyburn v. News World Commc'ns, Inc., 903 F.2d 29, 32 (D.C. Cir. 1990) ("[W]e have doubts about placing much weight on purely defensive, truthful statements made when an individual finds himself at the center of a public controversy but before any libel occurs; it is not clear why someone dragged into a controversy should be able to speak publicly only at the expense of foregoing a private person's protection from defamation."). Footnote

         But that is not what happened here. Although the Vicinis claim that the El Mundo article was a call to arms, the record is clear that they took little if any action directly in response to it. Juan testified that the only action he took was to order an internal inquiry concerning one accusation; Felipe testified that he took no action whatsoever. And even if the El Mundo article had some indirect influence on their conduct over the next four years, that conduct went well beyond any reasonable measure of self-defense, as we have shown. Footnote

         4. Public Figures and Geography

         The Vicinis' final argument on the limited-purpose public figure issue is a geographic one. They say that none of the above conduct makes them public figures in the United States, where the alleged defamation was published. The argument rests on an analogy to general-purpose public figures, and those authorities that require such individuals to have achieved notoriety where they were defamed. The Vicinis reason that this geographic restriction must also be true for limited-purpose public figures, who are the more "protected" of the two.

         The analogy is flawed. Gertz held that the plaintiff was not a public figure for all purposes because he had "no general fame or notoriety in the community" and was not generally known to "the local population." 418 U.S. at 351-52. Based on that language, some courts -- we have not addressed the question and we do not do so today -- have extrapolated that a general-purpose public figure need not attain "nationwide fame," only "notoriety where he was defamed[,] i.e., where the defamation was published." Waldbaum, 627 F.2d at 1295 n.22. Footnote Arguably, this so-called community standard actually expands rather than restricts the applicability of the New York Times rule, at least for general-purpose public figures.

         That debate, however, has no relevance here. Gertz defined a limited-purpose public figure not in terms of geography but in terms of the controversy that he has stepped into. See Gertz, 418 U.S. at 351 (defining a limited-purpose public figure as one who "voluntarily injects himself or is drawn into a particular controversy"); Tavoulareas, 817 F.2d at 772 ("[T]he scope of the controversy in which the plaintiff involves himself defines the scope of the public personality."). That suggests to us that, if Gertz envisioned any limitation on public-figure status, it is a limitation inherent in the scope of the controversy itself.

         Cases on this point, though rare, have reached essentially the same conclusion. See, e.g., Trotter v. Jack Anderson Enters., Inc., 818 F.2d 431 (5th Cir. 1987). In Trotter, the Fifth Circuit held that the plaintiff was a limited-purpose public figure for purposes of a U.S. publication because the controversy -- labor violence at a Coca-Cola bottling plant in Guatemala -- resonated in the United States: "Because of the proximity of other Western Hemisphere countries to the United States, social and political turmoil occurring there has aroused particular domestic concern." Id. at 434. Although the plaintiff's affiliation with a U.S. company played some role, the court's analysis focused on the fact that the controversy had "captured the attention of a diverse and broadly-based audience [in the United States], including the media, political leaders, human-rights organizations, labor unions, and Coca-Cola shareholders." Id. Footnote

         Similarly, here, the batey controversy was not confined to the shores of the Dominican Republic. Rather, it resounded in the United States for obvious humanitarian reasons and a less-obvious geopolitical one: a long-standing import quota system under U.S. law that subsidizes Dominican sugar producers, including the Vicinis. Footnote Indeed, one of Felipe's core responsibilities was seeing to it that this quota system remained intact through lobbying and other efforts. Concerns that negative publicity about the bateyes might jeopardize the quota system prompted him and Juan, at least in part, to launch the PR blitz that reached U.S. media outlets and policymakers, as we have shown. We are satisfied that such conduct is enough to make the plaintiffs public figures in the United States for purposes of this lawsuit. Footnote

B. Attorney-Client Privilege

         Documentarians commonly obtain insurance against potential "errors and omissions" in their films. The pursuit of such insurance in this case led the filmmakers to Frederick Leopold, an attorney and specialist in that field. Leopold told them that, in order to procure insurance, he would need a third-party report confirming the accuracy of the script, and recommended or directed that they retain Elizabeth Bardsley and her company to do it. The filmmakers then hired Bardsley; she worked closely with the filmmakers and in the process numerous email communications were generated between them. Ultimately, she rendered a report in the form of an annotated script which she provided to the filmmakers and to Leopold.

         During discovery the Vicinis sought the email communications and the report, but the filmmakers withheld them all on attorney-client privilege grounds. Footnote The Vicinis responded by filing a motion to compel and averred at a 2008 hearing on pending motions that the documents were pertinent to the filmmakers' state of mind. At that time, the district court indicated that the nature of the relationship between Leopold, the filmmakers and Bardsley may involve a factual matter requiring live testimony. The topic of possible in camera review also was broached. This particular discovery dispute, however, remained unresolved for a stretch of time in the midst of the parties' ongoing motion practice.

         Finally, litigation on the then-renewed motion to compel came to a head around the same time that the filmmakers pitched their summary judgment motion. At a 2009 hearing again addressing pending motions, the Vicinis identified the desired documents as material to the issue of actual malice. Acknowledging that the renewed motion to compel had "fallen through the cracks," the district court indicated that it would consider the document request in the context of the then-pending dispositive motion. Ultimately, while it granted the filmmakers summary judgment in a detailed and necessarily lengthy order, the court denied the renewed motion to compel without any substantive discussion.

         On appeal the Vicinis argue that the district court erred in denying their discovery motion and that the documents are critical to the actual malice inquiry. For their part, the filmmakers contend that the district court properly determined that the attorney-client privilege applies. Footnote We conclude that the record fails to support the district court's ruling that the filmmakers established that all the documents are protected by the attorney-client privilege as a matter of law. Rather than reverse the district court's decision, we think it prudent under the circumstances of this case to vacate and remand for the court to take up the matter in light of the guidance we provide forthwith.

         Read full appeal here from US court

 

Read also: Stop Sugar Purchases from the Dominican Republic, Sugar Barons are making billions from child labor and slavery conditions!

 

Go back | Date: 18 Dec 2011
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