Reality Bites – Defamation and Business Tort Claims of Reality Show Participant Dismissed (NY)


Klapper v. Gaziano (New York)

In 2011, the plaintiff agreed to participate in the “Mob Wives” reality television show.  Prior to his participation, he signed an “Appearance Release” in which he agreed to not sue the production company and to release the production company and its affiliates and representatives from all liability.  After the show, plaintiff filed an action against several individual and corporate defendants, alleging defamation and tortious interference with existing contracts and prospective business relationships.  The defendant corporate entities moved to dismiss the amended complaint for failure to state a cause of action and for an award of attorney’s fees.  The trial court granted the motion, and plaintiff appealed.

The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court affirmed the order.  With respect to the claim for tortious interference with existing contracts, the Court noted that the amended complaint “did not identify the third party with whom the plaintiff was engaging in business relations.”  With regard to the claim to tortious interference with prospective business relationships, the Court explained that “the complaint alleged that the corporate defendants were motivated by the economic objective of enhancing ratings, and, therefore, did not allege that they were motivated solely by malice or to inflict injury by unlawful means.”

Finally, the Court concluded that the “Appearance Release” barred the remaining claims against the corporate defendants, stating:

“The allegations against the corporate defendants are insufficient to demonstrate willful or grossly negligent acts or intentional misconduct which would render the Appearance Release unenforceable . . . .  Apart from vague, unsubstantiated claims of conspiracy and concerted action, there is no allegation that the corporate  defendants did anything other than what would normally be expected of the producers of a reality show. Therefore, the Appearance Release is enforceable.”

Plaintiff argued that the terms of the “Appearance Release” were not sufficiently broad to cover all of the corporate defendants, but the Court disagreed, finding that each of the corporate defendants could be considered an agent or representative of the production company.

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