The U.S. Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals on Monday overturned a jury's decision to award $1.8 million to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura in a 2014 defamation case.
A three-judge panel unanimously threw out the $1.35 million award to Ventura for "unjust enrichment," saying Minnesota law did not permit it. And in a 2-1 decision, it reversed the $500,000 award for defamation, remanding the case to the district court for a new trial on that question.
The decision was a victory for Taya Kyle, the widow of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, who wrote the bestselling memoir "American Sniper" that Ventura said defamed him. It was also a win for national news organizations that had urged that the verdict be thrown out.
"If a person bringing a libel suit could collect not just for damages, but for unjust enrichment … the whole nature of libel law would have been changed in a very threatening way," said Floyd Abrams, a prominent First Amendment attorney in New York, who had filed an amicus brief on behalf of 33 news organizations.
The ruling was a serious blow to Ventura, the former professional wrestler who served as governor from 1999 to 2003.