Makaeff v. Trump University

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 04-17-2013
  • Case #: 11-55016
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Wardlaw for the Court; Concurrence by Chief Judge Kozinski; Concurrence by Circuit Judge Paez
  • Full Text Opinion

Pursuant to California’s Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute, a public figure is held to a higher standard in proving that a person committing the crime of defamation against them acted with "actual malice."

Tarla Makaeff is a former student of Trump University. Founded by Donald Trump, the University is a limited liability company offering real estate seminars and other training programs to would-be real estate investors. Trump University’s mission is to “train, educate and mentor entrepreneurs on achieving financial independence through real estate investing.” After spending in excess of $34,000 for classes provided by Trump University, Makaeff became unhappy with the knowledge and advice she was receiving and attempted to get her money back. Unsuccessful in obtaining her money, Makaeff wrote to her bank and the Better Business Bureau, contacted government agencies, and posted on Internet message boards about her dispute with Trump University. She ultimately filed a class action suit on behalf of others in similar situations as hers, and Trump University filed a counter-claim for defamation. Despite Makaeff’s argument, the district court concluded that Trump University was not an “all purpose public figure.” The Ninth Circuit held that “large scale, aggressive advertising can inject a person or entity into a public controversy that arises from the subject of that advertising,” thus making it a limited public figure. Because Trump University is a limited purpose public figure, to prevail on its defamation claim, it must establish that Makaeff made her statements with “actual malice,” or “knowledge of their falsity or with reckless disregard for the truth.” The panel reversed and remanded to the lower court for further proceedings to determine if Makaeff acted with actual malice. REVERSED and REMANDED.

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