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Appeals court partially reverses former CMU gymnastics coach defamation lawsuit dismissal

Michigan Court of Appeals
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A former Central Michigan University gymnastics coach can continue his defamation lawsuit against ESPN and the network's reporter Dan Murphy.

That’s because the Michigan Court of Appeals is sending part of the complaint back to trial court.

The case stems from a pair of tweets that the former gymnastics coach, Jerry Reighard, said wrongly tied him to the sexual abuse of former athletics doctor Larry Nassar. The lower court found that they were "substantially true" and thus not defamatory, but Reighard said their implication linked him to Nassar.

Lawyer Victor Mastromarco represents the ex-CMU coach. He said he hopes to “vindicate” Reighard’s rights.

“We really believe they’ve been trampled on by this tweet by this reporter. And the harm that was done to him and his family and everything else over this,” Mastromarco said.

The appellate court ruled the trial court was wrong to dismiss the entire complaint based on the “substantial truth” of the tweets.

In the opinion, the court separated the defamation claims into two parts.

One dealt with the idea that the tweets tied Reighard to a state investigation into Nassar associate John Geddert. The court ruled the trial court was right to dismiss that part of the argument

The other issue followed the main complaint that Murphy ordering his tweets in the way he did implied that Reighard’s suspension from CMU was related to Nassar’s crimes. The two were not related.

Mastromarco said the appellate court was thorough in deciding the case needs another look.

“They understood what we were saying and they believed that the implications that were created by the reporter through his tweet were actionable,” he said.

A consideration in the appellate court’s decision was whether Murphy did his diligence to discover important facts about the suspension before tweeting.

Mastromarco advised reporters to be careful on social media.

“You have to check your sources. And you have to make sure that what you’re going to say is correct and doesn’t create an inference on something else,” he said.

Representatives from ESPN did not respond to a request for comment.