Chris Principe denied injunction in OneCoin defamation case
Last October Chris Principe filed a motion requesting a harassment order against defendant Timothy Curry.
Principe argued that Curry was harassing him and requested the court prohibit him from doing so.
Specifically, Principe wanted to
enjoin Curry from “[c]ontacting [Principe], either directly or indirectly, by any means, including but not limited to, by telephone, mail, email, social media, or other electronic means”; from “[p]ublishing [Principe’s] name in any media whatsoever”; and from “[c]ontacting any of [Principe’s] known business associates concerning [Principe] in any manner or with respect to any topic concerning [Principe].”
The length of the injunction sought was five years.
Upon consideration of Principe’s motion, Curry’s opposition, Principe’s response and oral arguments from both parties, on January 3rd Principe’s motion was denied.
According to order, Principe’s motion relied
on California Code of Civil Procedure section 527.6, which allows for a “person who has suffered harassment . . . [to] seek a temporary restraining order and an order after hearing prohibiting harassment.”
The problem however is that Section 527.6 is used as a remedy when a cause of action is presented, not as a cause of action itself.
As observed by the court, ‘Principe has not brought a cause of action pursuant to this statute.‘
Generally speaking, this would make such a Motion in federal court improper.
Furthermore the court deemed it unlikely, even if proper, that Principe would succeed on the merits of the motion.
Curry has presented compelling evidence that his Twitter posts do not constitute harassment, as they serve “a legitimate purpose.”
Curry uses his opposition to argue the merits of Principe’s defamation claim.
He argues that Principe “has published magazines promoting OneCoin” and “has allowed himself to be used in promotional videos used by OneCoin to lure people in to [sic] investing.”
Curry is concerned that “OneCoin has defrauded and harmed people worldwide out of their money” and alleges that it is the “subject of worldwide police investigations.”
He describes his Tweets and messages as part of his “civic duty to continue reporting on OneCoin newsrelated
Without deciding the truth of the underlying content of Curry’s Tweets, the Court is persuaded that his intentions to inform the public about OneCoin and to encourage investigation into its practices likely constitutes a legitimate purpose.
The Court therefore cannot conclude that Principe is likely to succeed on the merits to show that the Curry’s conduct has no legitimate purpose.
To be clear, the court isn’t making a decision on whether OneCoin is or isn’t a Ponzi scheme, only that Curry’s “intention to inform the public … and encourage (an) investigation” is a legitimate purpose.
This is important because Section 527.6
defines harassment as “unlawful violence, a credible threat of violence, or a knowing and willful course of conduct directed at a specific person that seriously alarms, annoys, or harasses the person, and that serves no legitimate purpose.”
Other arguments raised by Principe included that
- assertions of suspected criminal activity pertaining to his involvement in/with OneCoin were not an issue of public interest because Curry “did not report his suspicions to law enforcement” and
- he had not injected himself into the public debate around OneCoin as a cryptocurrency
Both arguments were rejected based on the fact that
- Principe featured OneCoin in his magazine and speaks at their events and
- Curry’s alleged co-operation with law enforcement agencies who are investigating OneCoin.
In an attempt to justify the injunction, Principe claimed, if granted, it would “not prevent Curry from tweeting about OneCoin, just him”.
The court dismissed this notion because
Curry has a potentially meritorious argument that his purpose in tweeting about Principe as Principe relates to OneCoin is legitimate.
In fact, the court even went so far as to establish that curtailing Curry’s criticism of Principe and OneCoin would violate Curry’s First Amendment rights.
Principe has not established a likelihood of success in establishing that Curry’s behavior is, indeed, harassment.
It is not appropriate—and indeed would violate the First Amendment—for the Court to engage in tone-policing in this manner.
In short, if Curry’s speech is not harassment, then it is protected by the Constitution and the injunction would be an impermissible prior restraint.
Clearing Curry of any misconduct, the court ruled his behavior as non-threatening and devoid of any threats of violence or physical confrontations.
The Court has not found any authority to suggest that social media contact of this nature, alone, would cause a reasonable person to experience “substantial” emotional distress.
Looking to the totality of the circumstances, Principe would not be likely to establish this necessary element of his section 527.6 claim.
Accordingly, the Court concludes that Principe has not shown a likelihood of success on the merits.
Principe has failed to make a showing on any of the four prongs of the preliminary injunction standard, and the Court will not issue an injunction.
The decision marks Principe’s second defeat in the case, following the denial for an Entry of Default last August.
Whether Principe elects to continue with the case remains to be seen.
It is widely believed that OneCoin is in part or wholly funding Principe’s lawsuit.
With OneCoin management AWOL for months, affiliate recruitment numbers tanking and most of the company’s top investors abandoning ship, whether OneCoin can afford to continue supporting Principe is unclear.
In the alternative, the denial of an injunction will likely dash any hope Principe had of a quick and convenient victory.
Given the merits of Principe’s lawsuit are utterly absurd to begin with, surely only someone absolutely bereft of intelligence of would continue on at this point.
Your move, Chris.
Update 12th April 2018 – As per a March 30th agreement, a settlement between Chris Principe and Tim Curry has been reached.