Tom Cruise’s $50M Defamation Suit Over Suri Abandonment Claim: What Are His Chances of Winning? (INSIDE STORY)

By: Cory Lopez / October 29, 2012

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Cruise filed a defamation suit against Bauer Publishing Company, demanding $50 million in damages over cover stories — printed by the corporation’s Life & Style and In Touch celebrity tabloids — that claim he “abandoned” his six-year-old daughter, Suri.

The case, filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of California in Los Angeles, centers on two covers that included images Cruise’s daughter: a July 31 issue of Life & Style with the words “Suri In Tears, Abandoned by Her Dad” splashed across it; and a Oct. 1 issue of In Touch that read, “Abandoned by Daddy.”

“Tom is a caring father who dearly loves Suri,” Cruise’s attorney Bert Fields said in a statement after the filing. “To say he has ‘abandoned’ her is a vicious lie. To say it in lurid headlines with a tearful picture of Suri is reprehensible.”

But if the case heads to court, a win won’t be easy for Cruise — at least in part because of his A-list status.

“The defamation laws are different as to individuals and celebrities [because] there’s a higher legal standard that’s in place … for public figures or celebrities,” Stuart Slotnick, business litigation partner at national law firm Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, told Celebuzz.

Cruise would have to “prove that the publisher acted with intentional malice — otherwise known as constitutional malice — which [means] it was intentionally meant to hurt him and to damage him,” Slotnick said.

If Cruise’s legal team can prove the publisher acted with intentional malice, then they have to make a case for damages.

“He needs to specify what damages there have been to him and…he would need to bring in actual proof that the damages [were] a result of these publications,” explained Slotnick. “For example, if he says, ‘I had a deal in place and I was going to make $15 million to make a movie. But as soon as the articles came out, I was told we can’t hire you because you abandoned your daughter.’ [That would be] directly linked to his damages. [But] it’s unlikely that he would be able to prove damages of $50 million or anything close to that.”

Cruise’s reputation would likely come into play for such proceedings. “If someone has a bad reputation, it’s harder to prove damages because it’s harder to defame someone with a bad reputation,” added Slotnick, who is the Managing Partner of Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney’s New York City office.

But regardless if Cruise is viewed positively or negatively, his Hollywood notoriety won’t help his case in court. “Seeing that he’s one of the A-list celebrities in this country and in the world,” adds Slotnick, defamation “may be difficult to prove at trial.”

But Slotnick suggested Cruise isn’t actually after an award of $50 million (In fact, his lawyer has said any money recovered from the lawsuit will be donated to charity). Instead, Cruise is hoping this case will broadcast a message to the media. “Tom Cruise is clearly not starting litigation for money,” he said. “It’s a deterrent to other publications from focusing on him and gossip-like statements. [He] trying to send a message to tabloids that if they invade his personal space and they cross a line, that they’re going to get sued.”

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