Ex-Central Michigan University Gymnastics Coach Wins Appeal Over Defamation Claims Against ESPN

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan court docket has reinstated a lawsuit by a former school gymnastics coach who claims he was defamed on Twitter by an ESPN reporter linking him to disgraced sports doctor Larry Nassar and a controversial coach.

The 3-0 determination by the state appeals court docket means the case will go to a jury trial in Isabella County until each side settle it.

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The court docket on Thursday discovered an absence of “minimal due diligence” by investigative reporter Dan Murphy when he referred on Twitter in 2019 to Jerry Reighard, who coached ladies’s gymnastics at Central Michigan University.

ESPN mentioned Friday it could enchantment the ruling. Murphy didn’t instantly reply to an e mail in search of remark.

Murphy had tweeted that the Michigan lawyer normal was investigating elite gymnastics coach John Geddert. He mentioned Geddert was a “close friend” to Nassar and had been accused of bodily harming gymnasts.

Murphy shortly adopted up with one other tweet about Reighard:

“On the same day as the AG’s announcement, Central Michigan said it was putting longtime gymnastics coach Jerry Reighard on leave amid an internal review. No details of the review were shared, but Reighard has a long personal and professional relationship with Geddert.”

CMU had acknowledged that the Reighard matter had nothing to do with sexual misconduct or Nassar, who was convicted of sexual assault. But Murphy declined to retract the tweets, in response to a abstract of the dispute.

He additionally admitted that he didn’t try and contact Reighard or CMU earlier than posting the tweets.

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Just a few weeks later, Murphy tweeted an replace about CMU’s evaluate of Reighard and mentioned it was “not connected” to the Nassar scandal or sexual misconduct.

Judge Eric Janes dominated in favor of ESPN and Murphy and dismissed the case, saying the preliminary tweets have been considerably true. But the appeals court docket, in a 3-0 determination, mentioned a jury ought to kind out what occurred.

“The implication that Reighard’s placement on leave was related to allegations that Geddert had physically and mentally harmed gymnasts tended to harm Reighard’s reputation so as to lower him in the estimation of the community or deter third persons from associating or dealing with him,” the court docket mentioned.

News media lawyer Herschel Fink mentioned he doubts the choice will probably be broadly utilized to different instances.

“Any time you’re dealing with libel by implication, it’s going to be a case that’s very fact-specific. … But they did find here that the reporter had, in their words, purposefully avoided the truth by not making some obvious inquiries,” Fink mentioned.

Reighard was fired by CMU, which had accused him of disregarding medical employees in accidents. His lawsuit over the dismissal nonetheless is lively in Isabella County.

Nassar labored at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians. He is serving a long time in jail for sexual assault and little one pornography crimes. Geddert, a former U.S. Olympic coach, killed himself simply hours after Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel introduced expenses in opposition to him in 2021.

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