Defamation Claim Against America’s Test Kitchen Survives Summary Judgment

Judge Sanders refused to grant summary judgment for America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) on Christopher Kimball’s defamation claim. According to Kimball, ATK defamed him when it posted information on its website after the litigation began. That information included, among other things, ATK’s complaint against Kimball, a chronology of events, and a section on frequently asked questions.

Moving for summary judgment, ATK argued that Kimball would have to prove by clear and convincing evidence that ATK acted with malice because Kimball is a "public figure." ATK, Judge Sanders stated, based its public-figure argument on the following facts:

Kimball hosted ATK’s two television programs, America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Country, from their inception through the 2016 season, both shows averaging a combined four million viewers per week. Kimball has personally appeared on the Today Show, Rachel Ray, Fresh Air, and Morning Edition; he has also received coverage in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and other media outlets.

Judge Sanders rejected ATK’s argument, ruling that Kimball is not a public figure. More specifically, Judge Sanders ruled that Kimball is not a public figure in the sense that he acquired such fame or notoriety as to be, in the language of Bowman v. Heller, 420 Mass. 517, 522-523 (1995), "a household name on a national scale." She also ruled that Kimball had not become a public figure through his role in a public controversy or matter of public concern that is the subject of the plaintiff’s claim. "[T]he defamation counterclaim," Judge Sanders wrote, "concerns statements that ATK posted on its website about this litigation, which arises from a dispute between a private company and its former employee—hardly a matter of public concern or the subject of public controversy."

Ultimately, because ATK’s motion for summary judgment on the defamation claim hinged on a finding that Kimball is a public figure, Judge Sanders denied the motion.

America’s Test Kitchen Inc. v. Kimball, et al., March 19, 2019

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