Opinions Relating to Orders - 2020

Berisha v. Lawson

The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied. JUSTICE THOMAS, dissenting from the denial of certiorari. In 2015, Guy Lawson published a book detailing the “true story” of how three Miami youngsters became international arms dealers. 973 F. 3d 1304, 1306 (CA11 2020). A central plot point involves the protagonists’ travels to Albania and subsequent run-ins with the “Albanian mafia,” a key figure of which, the book claims, is petitioner Shkelzen Berisha. The book performed well, and Lawson eventually sold the movie rights to Warner Bros., which made the feature film War Dogs. Unhappy with his portrayal, Berisha sued Lawson for defamation under Florida law. According to Berisha, he is not associated with the Albanian mafia—or any dangerous group—and Lawson recklessly relied on flimsy sources to contend that he was. The District Court granted summary judgment in favor of Lawson. Setting aside questions of truth or falsity, the court simply asked whether Berisha is a “public figure.” Why? Because under this Court’s First Amendment jurisprudence, public figures cannot establish libel without proving by clear and convincing evidence that the defendant acted with “‘actual malice’”—that is with knowledge that the published material “was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false.”