There have been news reports that multimillion dollar class action lawsuits are being filed in San Francisco and Los Angeles, California by Filipino doctors against ABC for the derogatory remarks against Filipinos made in the September 30, 2007 episode of the Desperate Housewives.
Another lawsuit to be filed by some Philippine medical schools is also reportedly being planned.
It should be recalled that in that episode, Teri Hatcher said, “Okay before we go any further, can I check their diplomas? Because I would just like to make sure that they are not from some med schools in the Philippines.”
The Filipino American lawyers who will represent the plaintiffs have expressed confidence that the lawsuits will succeed. Both lawyers have already sent their letters of demand for correction or retraction to ABC as required by law. They have volunteered to take the cases on a contingency basis. The San Francisco lawsuit has, at this time, 75 plaintiffs while the Los Angeles lawsuit has 73.
While the remarks are unquestionably offensive to the Filipinos in general, and to the Filipino doctors and Philippine medical schools in particular, we believe that the defamation lawsuits will likely not prosper.
The remarks were made in a television entertainment program. Such program is protected under the first amendment (free speech clause) of the United States Constitution.
The courts have held that the constitutional guarantee of freedom of expression extends to news reports and entertainment programs. Television broadcasting is considered speech.
For a defamation suit to succeed, the plaintiffs must show that the remarks made were statements of fact. Statements of opinion or of fiction are not actionable. Nor are statements meant as a joke.
It can be argued that the remarks uttered by Teri Hatcher (a fictional character) in a television show, were not statements of fact.
The plaintiffs must also show that they were harmed. They must show personal or monetary damage. Under the circumstances, this would be difficult to demonstrate in a court of law.
In filing the lawsuits, the plaintiffs will run the risk of paying the attorney’s fees and costs incurred by ABC in defending the lawsuits under the anti SLAPP statute (an acronym for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.)
For ABC to invoke the anti SLAPP statute, it will need only to establish that the “plaintiffs’ claims arose from an act (by ABC) in furtherance of its right of petition or free speech under the U.S. or California Constitutions in connection with a public issue.”
Once ABC meets the requirement, the plaintiffs will have the burden to establish that their claim will have a probability of success, meaning that their complaints are “legally sufficient and supported by a sufficient prima facie showing of facts to sustain a favorable judgment if the evidence submitted by the plaintiffs is credited.”
This will be a difficult burden for the plaintiffs to meet.
Editor’s Note: REUBEN S. SEGURITAN has been practicing law for over 30 years. For further information, you may call him at 212 695 5281 or log on to his website at www.seguritan.com