U. of Michigan paper faces $1 million defamation suit — in Canada

MICHIGAN — A Canadian hockey club filed suit against the University of Michigan’sstudent newspaper in an Ontario court Tuesday, following a story that allegedthe team offered money to a UM-bound player.

An article publishedlast week by Matt Slovin in The Michigan Daily quoted an anonymousOntario Hockey League source who claimed the Kitchener Rangers offered JacobTrouba $200,000 to play for the Rangers rather than honor his commitment to theuniversity for the upcoming year.

Had Trouba acceptedmoney as part of a professional deal, it would nullify his NCAA eligibility.

Tuesday’s defamationlawsuit seeks $500,000 in general damages and $500,000 in punitive damages,according to a report in The Waterloo Region Record.

A court spokesmanconfirmed the suit — Kitchener RangersJunior A Hockey Club v. The Michigan Daily, Matt Slovin and John Doe — wasfiled in the Superior Court of Justice in Kitchener. He would not provide acopy of the suit, but said no court dates on the matter have beenscheduled.

The Michigan Daily defended its reporting in a statement released Thursday.

The Daily stands behind the story and the reporter, Matt Slovin,” the statement read. “The Daily will respond to threats of legal action in an appropriate fashion.”

RyderGilliland, who is representing the Rangers, did not respond to multiplerequests for comment as of press time.

“When you’re dealingwith sources, one thing you have to be very careful about is relying on asource that has a bone to pick,” Gilliland told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday. “TheKitchener Rangers are very concerned — they don’t know who the source is —they’re concerned that … this was a source that was deliberately trying tocause harm to the Kitchener Rangers. Again, we don’t know if that’s the case,but that’s a very real concern.”

Trouba and his familydenied the Daily report in a statement.

“There is absolutelyno truth or merit to the recent media reports that the Kitchener Rangers haveoffered Jacob any remuneration,” said the family’s statement. “We have theutmost respect for the Kitchener Rangers and those that choose the CanadianHockey League as an option, but Jacob will be attending the University ofMichigan next fall as a student athlete.”

Adam Goldstein,Student Press Law Center attorney advocate, believes the suit does not standmuch of a chance of succeeding, given that the defendants are all United Statescitizens and likely do not have any assets in Canada.

He said that Canadiancourts have in recent years increasingly dismissed attempts at “libel tourism”— the practice of pursuing a defamation case in a country like England orCanada, rather than the U.S.

While the standard towin a libel case is more relaxed in Canada — even true statements can belibelous — collecting damages from a U.S. citizen is challenging.

If a Canadian courtwere to find that the Daily had defamed the Rangers, a U.S. court wouldhave to uphold that judgment for any damages to be collected, Goldsteinsaid. 

“Ordinarily speaking,a U.S. court will enforce a foreign judgment if it’s a valid judgment underforeign law, but the one exception comes when the judgment offends the FirstAmendment,” he said.

That exception wascemented in 2010, when Congress passed the Securing the Protection of ourEnduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act. The SPEECH Act makesforeign libel judgments unenforceable in U.S. courts unless they satisfy FirstAmendment standards.

Goldstein also pointedout that neither Slovin nor any Daily staff members can be forced tocooperate with Canadian court proceedings.

At this point, thedefendants have several options. If they choose to ignore the Rangers’ suit,the hockey team could win by default. And while monetary damages may not beenforceable in the U.S., the defendants could be denied entry into Canada orcountries it has treaties with because of the outstanding judgment, Goldsteinsaid.

The Daily couldalso retain a Canadian lawyer to contest the suit on its behalf.

Detroit-based attorneyHerschel Fink, who has consulted with the Daily staff on the suit but isnot yet formally representing them, added that the amount requested in damagesis “meaningless,” given the differences between the court systems.

Fink declined tocomment further on the specifics of the suit, saying he was not yet familiarenough with the Daily’s coverage of the Trouba allegations.

By Seth Zweifler, SPLC staff writer