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Jacobs v. Adelson

Supreme Court of Nevada

May 30, 2014

STEVEN C. JACOBS, Appellant,
v.
SHELDON G. ADELSON, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND REPRESENTATIVE CAPACITIES, Respondent

Page 1283

Appeal from a district court order, certified as final under NRCP 54(b), dismissing respondent from a defamation action. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Elizabeth Goff Gonzalez, Judge.

Reversed and remanded.

Pisanelli Bice, PLLC, and Todd L. Bice, Debra L. Spinelli, and Jarrod L. Rickard, Las Vegas, for Appellant.

Morris Law Group and Steve L. Morris and Ryan M. Lower, Las Vegas, for Respondent.

OPINION

Page 1284

BEFORE THE COURT EN BANC.[1]

HARDESTY, J.:

Appellant sued respondent's companies for wrongful termination, making a number of allegations in the complaint against respondent personally. After respondent published a response to the allegations in the media, appellant sued him for defamation. The district court dismissed the defamation claim, concluding that respondent was protected from a defamation suit because his statements to the media were made in the context of a judicial action. Although statements made during the course of judicial proceedings are generally considered absolutely privileged and cannot form the basis of a defamation claim, we have yet to consider whether statements made to the media regarding ongoing or contemplated litigation are covered by this absolute privilege. We adopt the majority view that communications made to the media in an extrajudicial setting are not absolutely privileged, at least when the media holds no more significant interest in the litigation than the general public. Thus, we reverse the order of dismissal and remand this matter to the district court for further proceedings.

FACTS

Appellant Steven C. Jacobs filed a wrongful termination complaint against Las Vegas Sands Corporation (LVSC) and Sands China, Ltd. (Sands China). LVSC is the controlling shareholder of Sands China. Sheldon G. Adelson is the chief executive officer and majority shareholder of LVSC and Jacobs' former employer. Although Adelson was not originally named as a defendant, Jacobs' complaint alleged that Adelson demanded Jacobs to engage in " illegal" activities while working for LVSC operations in Macau. Jacobs further alleged that his refusal to carry out those " illegal" demands resulted in threats by Adelson and Jacobs' eventual termination. The complaint also contained numerous attacks against Adelson personally, asserting that he made " outrageous demands" and referring to him as " notoriously bellicose" and " mercurial." It also attacked Adelson's behavior as " rude and obstreperous."

LVSC and Sands China filed a motion to dismiss the complaint, which resulted in a hearing that received widespread media attention. After the hearing, the Wall Street Journal published an online article about the case. According to the article, Adelson provided an e-mail response that allegedly said:

While I have largely stayed silent on the matter to this point, the recycling of his allegations must be addressed . . . . We have a substantial list of reasons why Steve Jacobs was fired for cause and interestingly he has not refuted a single one of them. Instead, he has attempted to explain his termination by using outright lies and fabrications which seem to have their origins in delusion.

Jacobs subsequently amended his complaint, adding a claim for defamation per se against Adelson, LVSC, and Sands China. The amended complaint alleged that the statements published in the Wall Street Journal were false and defamatory, unprivileged, published maliciously and known to be false or in reckless disregard of the truth, and necessarily injurious to Jacobs' professional reputation.

Adelson, LVSC, and Sands China all filed motions to dismiss Jacobs' defamation claim, arguing that the statements were absolutely privileged communications made in the course of judicial proceedings or, in the alternative, were protected by the conditional privilege of reply. After a hearing on the motion to dismiss, the district court determined that Adelson's response to the Wall Street Journal was an absolutely privileged communication relating to the litigation. Based on its ruling that Adelson's statements were absolutely privileged, the district court declined to consider Adelson's alternative argument that his statements were covered by the ...


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