Sacramento judge Richard Sueyoshi ruled Tuesday that distributor Scripps and show producers Big Table Media ois covered by the First Amendment’s free speech protections. “Defendant has shown that the entire complaint arises from an act in furtherance of its right of petition or free speech and Plaintiff failed to establish that there is a probability that he will prevail on the claim.”
The complaint alleged defamation, trade libel and intentional infliction of emotional distress for how Eckhardt was depicted in the Windy City Rehab second season. Eckhardt claims he’s suffered depression and that his business has slumped because of the show’s false depiction of his business dealings.
The lawsuit failed to prove that Scripps acted with malice, a necessary proof. Although show host Alison Victoria was not sued, she was mentioned in the arguments by Eckhardt’s attorney. He claimed they knew she was making false statements, but forged ahead with the production.
“They knew they were relying upon an unreliable source based upon her prior false public statements and based on the fact that she’d been sued multiple times for fraud,” he said. “They knew she harbored animus against plaintiff, and they didn’t investigate.”
The judge denied that claim, writing, “Simply put, even if Plaintiff produced some evidence that Season Two was scripted/fictionalized, and/or that Defendant had input regarding the storylines, this is a far cry from evidence that Defendant created any of Gramenos’ statements and/or had any knowledge they were false or even a reason to doubt they were true.”
UPDATE: A Cook County, Illinois judge has dismissed former Windy CIty Rehab cohost Donovan Eckhardt’s defamation claim against the program’s showrunners.
Judge Patricia O’Brien Sheahan ruled that Eckhardt’s contract called for legal disputes to be settled in a California courtroom. His attorney argued that it would be burdensome for witnesses to travel across the country to testify.
The judge rejected that argument, saying remote testimony could be allowed, obviating any physical travel needs.
Eckhardt is appealing the decision. The second season of the show featured his cohost Alison Victoria lamenting her partnership with Eckhardt and various business dealings.
Eckhardt and Victoria (real last name Gramenos) are still facing legal matters concerning work performed on the rehab houses featured on the first two seasons of the program.
However, the last of the 16 homes featured on the first two seasons of the show has finally sold, albeit at a price far less than the work put into it. The Chicago Sun-Times reports the final price was $195,000 less than what it was listed for in October.
The media outlet also said that VIctoria’s personal home has languished on the market, even with a reduced price of $2.195 million.
EARLIER: Donovan Eckhardt, who costarred with Alison Victoria on HGTV’s reality hit Windy City Rehab, has filed a lawsuit claiming defamation and emotional distress based on his portrayal in the second season of the show.
The filing asks that Discovery Inc. and Big Table Media award Eckhardt in excess of $2.2 million for actual, punitive and compensatory damages for counts of “defamation” and “intentional infliction of emotional distress.”
Eckhardt had a falling out with Alison Victoria Gramenos over work performed on several projects, and was portrayed as the reason for several legal actions suffered by the former business partners. The second season of the series focused on Gramenos’s attempts to deal with the fallout of those actions and finger-pointed at Eckhardt.
Discovery Inc. (the HGTV parent), Big Table Media (the Windy City Rehab producers) were named in the Eckhardt suit, but Gramenos was not. The lawsuit claims the scripted series was designed to make Eckhardt into the bad guy in the partnership, with Gramenos the victim.
In the lawsuit filed in Illinois’s Cook County Circuit Court Monday, Eckhardt, the contractor and developer on the show, explains his side of the story. He claims that the series was scripted and edited to make him look like the bad guy, and Gramenos the victim.
Eckhardt left Windy City Rehab in the middle of Season 2. The business partners had previously endured stop-work orders by the City of Chicago and threats to suspend Eckhardt’s contracting licenses. They were also named in two lawsuits alleging shoddy work.
In the lawsuit, Eckhardt particularly denied accusations of mishandling and stealing company finances. He also blamed a hectic production schedule under pressure from Big Table Media for many of the stop-work orders, construction issues, permit problems and other legal issues.
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