A federal libel lawsuit brought by the brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols against "Bowling for Columbine" filmmaker Michael Moore continues after a ruling Sept. 3 on an issue of first impre
NEW YORK -- A federal libel lawsuit brought by the brother of Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols against "Bowling for Columbine" filmmaker Michael Moore continues after a ruling Sept. 3 on an issue of first impression in Michigan.
The U.S. District Court in Detroit considered whether the statute of limitations bars a lawsuit, based on statements made in a film, that is served on the defendant more than one year after the initial premiere of the film. It held that in defamation cases, release of the film on DVD with additional special features is a "republication" of the film, and the right to sue for libel begins again.
In the suit, filed in 2003, James Nichols claims that Moore interviewed him for the Oscar-winning documentary. About 10 minutes of the three-hour interview, conducted at Nichols' home, appeared in the film, which included Moore's narration: "McVeigh and the Nichols brothers made practice bombs before Oklahoma City. Terry and James were both arrested in connection to the bombing. Terry Nichols was convicted and received a life sentence. Timothy McVeigh was executed, but the feds didn't have the goods on James so the charges were dropped."
The complaint says Moore also appeared on Oprah Winfrey's television show and stated that McVeigh and Nichols were in Michigan "for a number of months and making practice bombs ... in preparation for Oklahoma City."
Shortly after the "Oprah" broadcast, Nichols demanded retraction, the court opinion states, and Moore refused. Nichols claimed that the statements were defamatory because they implied his involvement in a conspiracy.
The suit alleges claims for libel, defamation, invasion of privacy, infliction of emotional distress and violation of Nichols' right of publicity.
Moore filed a motion for summary judgment claiming that the action was barred by the statute of limitations because the complaint was served more than one year after the film's premiere and the initial broadcast of "Oprah."
Holding that the one-year Michigan limitations period applies to the claims, the court entered summary judgment in favor of Moore on all claims relating to "Oprah." The court also held that Nichols had no claim for the right of publicity; the film was not a "work of pure commercial speech" since it does "much more than simply propose a commercial transaction."
However, the court permitted the claims relating to the statements made in the film to continue in the District Court.