MICHIGAN – A Canadian hockey team has dropped its libel lawsuit against The Michigan Daily and its reporter after the paper issued a clarification and took down a story that accused the team of having offered money to a University of Michigan-bound player.
The Ann Arbor-based student newspaper had until this week to respond to the suit, brought by the Kitchener Rangers, a junior hockey team based in Ontario. The clarification was posted Friday on the paper’s website.
In the lawsuit filed against the Daily, its reporter, Matt Slovin, and Slovin’s anonymous source, the Rangers claim the July 3 article was false and was published “in a deliberate and malicious attempt to harm the Rangers’ reputation.” The team sought a combined $1 million in general and punitive damagers.
Slovin’s article quoted an anonymous Ontario Hockey League source who claimed the Rangers had offered incoming freshman Jacob Trouba $200,000 to turn down his offer to play at Michigan and to play instead for the Rangers.
The Daily defended its reporting initially, but said in its clarification that new information had shown the story to be inaccurate, specifically, a denial of the allegation from Trouba’s family and an Ontario Hockey League internal investigation.
“The Daily clarifies here that, while it was at the time reporting a story of importance to the Michigan sports community … if all of the facts had been known to the Daily, including the denials that were not initially reported, and the subsequent OHL investigation that found no violation, the Daily would not have published the story,” the clarification states.
Herschel Fink, a Detroit-based attorney representing the newspaper, said settling the lawsuit was in the paper’s best interests.
“Whenever you can resolve litigation, particularly a case, as here, involving complex issues of international conflicts of law, by issuing a clarifying statement, which was appropriate under the circumstances, then it is in the interest of all sides to do so,” Fink said in an email Monday.
That the lawsuit was filed in Ontario was a complicating factor, he said.
Even if the lawsuit had progressed and a Canadian court found in favor of the Rangers, the team would have had difficulty enforcing the judgment in the United States, due to a 2010 law passed by Congress.
The Securing the Protection of our Enduring and Established Constitutional Heritage Act makes foreign libel verdicts unenforceable in U.S. courts unless they satisfy First Amendment standards. The law is an attempt to crack down on so-called “libel tourism,” where plaintiffs bring suits against U.S. individuals or publications in countries with weaker free speech laws.
The Rangers’ lawsuit against the anonymous source still stands, according to a statement from Steve Bienkowski, the club’s chief operating officer.
By Sara Gregory, SPLC staff writer