A frivolous lawsuit is one without legal merit, sometimes when an action is brought about in bad faith to harass the defendant(s), the plaintiff may be liable for damages for malicious prosecution. Attorneys and legal doctrine will be necessary to determine the merit between a lawsuit filed by George Zimmerman against presidential candidates.
George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the fatal shooting of a Florida teenager in 2012, filed a lawsuit against two presidential candidates, alleging they defamed him. Zimmerman, who lives in Polk County, filed the lawsuit Tuesday in the 10th Judicial Circuit Court. The suit names Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg as defendants. The suit claims Warren and Buttigieg separately defamed Zimmerman in Twitter statements Feb. 5 recognizing what would have been Trayvon Martin’s 25th birthday. The suit says both did so “for political gain in misguided and malicious attempts to bolster their standings amongst African-American voters, all at Zimmerman’s expense.”
Zimmerman was a volunteer member of a neighborhood watch group in 2012 when he began following Trayvon Martin, 17, of Miami Gardens, who was visiting family inside the gated Retreat at Twin Lakes community in Sanford. Martin noticed Zimmerman and confronted him, and a struggle ensued in which Zimmerman fatally shot the teenager. After being charged with murder, Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” statute. He was acquitted in a 2013 trial.
Defamation is any intentional false communication, either written or spoken, that could harm a person’s reputation and decrease the respect or confidence in which that person is held or brings up disparaging or disagreeable opinions or feelings against a person. Defamation can be criminal or civil and encompasses written statements (libel) and spoken statements (slander). The possibility that Zimmerman will recover damages in the defamation suit depends on whether or not he is considered a public or private figure in the eyes of the law.
Public figure law.
Under the public figure law of defamation New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254, 84 S. Ct. 710, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686 (1964). The balance test will review the plaintiff’s interest in preserving his reputation against the public’s interest in freedom of expression as they did in New York Times v. Sullivan which held that a public official alleging libel must prove actual malice in order to recover damages
The First Amendment protects open debate on public issues including caustic, or unpleasant attacks on government and public officials. It would have to be proven that Zimmerman was a public figure and that Warren and Buttigieg spoke untruths or in malice against Mr. Zimmerman.
Legal arguments would have to support defamation. The very definition goes against Zimmerman’s claims at the outset of his legal action, as the iterations by the presidential candidates are not false communications meant to harm Zimmerman’s reputation, even if they gain support of sympathetic minority voters.