Comedian Jerry Seinfeld didn’t defame a cookbook author when he called her “wacko” and “a nut job” on television, a New York state judge ruled.
Judge Marcy Friedman in Manhattan dismissed a lawsuit by Missy Chase Lapine, author of “The Sneaky Chef: Simple Strategies for Hiding Healthy Foods in Kids’ Favorite Meals,” against Seinfeld and News Corp.’s HarperCollins Publishers unit, which she claims stole her ideas when it published a cookbook by Seinfeld’s wife, Jessica.
“Seinfeld’s statements disparage Lapine’s claim of plagiarism as false or baseless or, more colloquially, as wacky,” Friedman wrote in a decision made public today. “As statements of opinion about the lack of merit of plaintiff’s claims, they are not actionable.”
A federal judge in 2009 dismissed Lapine’s trademark- and copyright-infringement claims against Jessica Seinfeld’s book, “Deceptively Delicious: Simple Secrets to Get Your Kids Eating Good Food.” That ruling was upheld last year by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
“Today’s decision is a complete victory for Jerry -- and also a victory for the First Amendment and the right of comedians to tell jokes,” Orin Snyder, a Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher partner who represents the defendants, said in a statement. Snyder said the ruling also confirms the earlier court rulings that Jessica Seinfeld created the book on her own.
Chris Seeger, a lawyer for Lapine, didn’t return a voice- mail message seeking comment.
Friedman threw out Lapine’s claim that Jerry Seinfeld used a 2007 appearance on CBS’s Late Show with David Letterman “to launch a malicious, premeditated and knowingly false and defamatory attack.” She also dismissed Lapine’s claim that Seinfeld made defamatory claims about Lapine’s mental health on E! News.
“The court finds it inconceivable that a reasonable viewer would have believed that Seinfeld’s statements were conveying facts about Lapine,” Friedman said.
On the Letterman appearance, according to Friedman’s ruling, Seinfeld summarized Lapine’s legal claim as: “You stole my mushed-up carrots. You can’t put mushed-up carrots in a casserole.”
“It’s vegetable plagiarism,” Seinfeld told Letterman.
Friedman also dismissed Lapine’s claims of misappropriation, unfair competition and breach of implied contract against HarperCollins, saying that Lapine’s book lacked the novelty necessary to support her legal claims against the publisher.
“Numerous other titles reflect the same ideas, tips, and tricks that plaintiff claims were her own innovation,” Friedman wrote. “The idea of hiding healthy ingredients in foods likely to be accepted by children was, at best, a creative variation on preexisting ideas.”
In the federal court case, the appeals court said the two books weren’t “substantially similar” and that “the total concept and feel of Deceptively Delicious is very different from that of The Sneaky Chef.”
The case is Lapine v. Seinfeld, 150051/2010, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
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