The appeal of former Miami Dolphins offensive line coach Jim Turner to reinstate a lawsuit he filed against a law firm for defamation of character was denied by the 11th United States circuit of appeals on Thursday. The lawsuit stems from the firing of Turner by the Dolphins in response to a report the team received regarding bullying by members of the football team from a law firm headed by Paul Weiss.
In their decision, the court surmised that sections of the report that were said to be of a defamatory nature by Weiss were protected because they were opinion based statements. The court additionally determined that Turner had not adequately proven that the law firm had acted against him with malicious intent.
The report was commissioned by the National Football League after Jonathan Martin, a former Dolphin offensive lineman left the team without warning early in the 2013 football season and entered a mental hospital. Martin alleges that relentless taunting from teammates was the reason behind his sudden departure.
A law partner of Weiss, Theodore Wells, led the investigation into the events was made a defendant in Turner’s lawsuit. The conclusion that was drawn from the 144- page report produced by the firm was that both Miami Dolphin coaches and players were enablers of a culture of bullying that was present at team facilities.
Turner was particularly concerned with four passages in the firm’s report that he considered to be of a defamatory nature. In one section, it was reported that one Dolphins player was subjected to homophobic slurs despite the absence of a belief that the player was gay. Turner was reported to take part in the joking and once gave out gag gifts of female blow-up dolls to all members of the offensive line except for the lineman in question. This lineman was given a male doll.
The appeal court concurred with the original trial court however in determining that statements reported regarding the doll incidents were not defamatory. Statements regarding this incident as well as the assertions made by the firm pertaining to this incident were not believed to be sufficient to support a claim of defamation.
The court of appeals also took a close look at another section of the report. This section detailed texts sent by Turner to Martin after the lineman left the team. Turner asked Martin to make statements in defense of a teammate who was being accused in the media of being the bullying ringleader. When Martin would not do so Turner expressed his displeasure.