Phoebe Bridgers in court: judge leans towards throwing defamation case out

"It seems to me that her statements on Instagram are statements that concern a person who’s in the public eye", the judge said

Phoebe Bridgers appeared in court yesterday (August 12) in an ongoing defamation lawsuit and the judge in the case appears to be leaning towards throwing the case out.

The lawsuit was filed against Bridgers by the producer Chris Nelson last year. It came about following an October 2020 social media post in which Bridgers directed her followers on Instagram to a thread written by her friend Emily Bannon, which Nelson has claimed was defamatory.

Nelson subsequently sued the singer for defamation and is currently seeking $3.8million (£2.8million) in damages. He claims Bridgers “intentionally used her high-profile public platform on Instagram to publish false and defamatory statements” about him “in order to destroy his reputation”.

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In a sworn declaration filed on February 14, Bridgers responded to the allegations, saying: “I believe that the statements I made in my Instagram story are true. My statements were made based on my personal knowledge, including statements I personally heard Mr. Nelson make.”

Nelson subsequently demanded the right to depose Bridgers, saying it was the only way to prove that the musician defamed him. Earlier this month, Bridgers’ lawyers called the request “harassment”.

Phoebe Bridgers. Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images
Phoebe Bridgers. Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images

“Mr. Nelson’s amorphous request for discovery based on his attorney’s circular statement that it is necessary is nothing more than thinly veiled harassment,” her lawyer, Alan A. Greenberg, wrote in a March 16 court filing.

In February, Bridgers sought to end the lawsuit, citing California’s anti-SLAPP law in a new court filing. The motion filed said that Nelson is enough of a public person that he must prove that Bridgers “acted with actual malice”.

“Ms. Bridgers has submitted a declaration affirming her subjective belief in the truth of her statements, so Mr. Nelson cannot meet his burden. The court therefore should grant this special motion to strike,” they stated.

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Appearing in court this week, Judge Kin said of the case: “I’ve had time to think about this, and I certainly have some formulated thoughts, where I’m at, where I’m leaning.

“I’ll tell you outright that I would tend to think that I would grant the anti-SLAPP motion. It would seem to me that the posting by Ms. Bridgers is one that is a matter of public interest. It seems to me that her statements on Instagram are statements that concern a person who’s in the public eye, as well as statements that could directly affect a large number of persons beyond Mr. Nelson and Ms. Bridgers.”

The judge said he further believed it was likely a “matter of public interest when Ms. Bridgers, in her Instagram post, intended to provide protected consumer information to musicians or others who might consider working with the plaintiff.”
He went on to say that Nelson’s attempt to portray himself as a private citizen for the purposes of anti-SLAPP was “inconsistent” with his own lawsuit, because he describes himself as a “well-established” producer.

NME has reached out to representatives on Nelson and Bridgers for comment.

Nelson has already lost a separate defamation case against the musician, actress and director Noël Wells, after he alleged that Wells made “false” statements about him in correspondence with the band Big Thief, and had caused him emotional distress.

Wells allegedly told an artist manager with whom Nelson had a working relationship that he had committed “an ‘incredibly predatory move on [her]’” and exhibited “incredibly predatory behaviour… toward young females including young female musicians”.

Los Angeles County Judge Gregory W. Alarcon dismissed Nelson’s case against Wells at a court hearing in January. He ruled that Wells was protected under free speech rights.

Her lawyers also noted that ruling in Nelson’s favour would defeat the purpose of the anti-SLAPP law: “If plaintiffs could justify lifting the discovery stay based solely on their lack of available evidence to oppose an anti-SLAPP motion, that would enable those with the weakest claims to inflict the expense and delay of discovery on the defendants the legislature most intended to protect by providing a procedure for courts to dismiss at an early stage non-meritorious litigation meant to chill the valid exercise of the constitutional rights.”

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