ChesterNewMatterWinter2017 - 24

CCBA Feature

Unjust Enrichment Meets
Defamation and Sparks Fly
By Andrew G. Lehr, Esquire

T

he probability that a nationally prominent
case with sensational facts would also contain
unprecedented legal issues is surely as unlikely as
finding a hen's tooth in a haystack. But Ventura v. Kyle
surely fits the bill.
The recent hit movie "American Sniper" was based on
the published memoirs of Chris Kyle, where he recounted
an incident in a bar where he punched a celebrity he
called "Scruff Face" who allegedly made disparaging
statements during a wake for a fellow Navy SEAL
who had died in combat. During his book tour, Kyle
identified the celebrity as outspoken former pro wrestler
and Minnesota governor Jesse "the Body" Ventura.
Ventura sued Kyle for defamation, claiming the
incident never occurred. The case has too many twists

24 | New Matter

and turns to recount in a short article, but it received
national publicity and Google will quickly lead to the
details you may desire.
The interesting legal angle is that Ventura also sought
the equitable remedy of unjust enrichment in addition
to his defamation claim, and besides awarding him
$500,000 for defamation, the jury also rendered an
advisory verdict finding liability on Ventura's unjust
enrichment claim, and recommended that the judge
award Ventura an additional $1,345,477.25. The jury
was not asked to explain the basis for this amount, but it
represented about 25 percent of the book profits to date
(even though the bar fight story at issue occupied under
two pages of a 379-page book). The trial court accepted
the jury's verdict and recommendations, and therefore
awarded Ventura a total of $1,845,477.25.
When the case went to the 8th Circuit, a swarm of
heavyweight media conglomerates and others filed
amicus briefs seeking to overturn the unjust enrichment
award. The reasons they were concerned enough to enter
the fray on this issue include the difficulty defamation



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