Berisha v. Lawson, No. 19-10315 (11th Cir. 2020)Annotate this Case
The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment against Shkelzen Berisha, the son of the former Prime Minister of Albania, who alleges that he was defamed in a book that accused him of being involved in an elaborate arms-dealing scandal in the early 2000s. Guy Lawson wrote the book at issue, called Arms and the Dudes: How Three Stoners from Miami Beach Became the Most Unlikely Gunrunners in History, which tells the supposedly true story of three young Miami, Florida, men who became international arms dealers. Lawson also sold the movie rights to Warner Brothers, which turned the story into the 2016 major motion picture War Dogs, starring Jonah Hill and Miles Teller.
After determining that the district court correctly applied the heightened defamation standard for claims brought by public figures, the court held that the district court did not err in finding that there was insufficient evidence to support Berisha's claim that defendants acted with actual malice. The court also held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Berisha's motion to compel where the employee-equivalent doctrine, which extends the attorney-client privilege beyond individuals who control the corporation to include other employees with whom the lawyer must consult in order to advise the company, would likely shield from discovery the communications between Lawson and Simon & Schuster's attorneys. Finally, the court held that Berisha presents no grounds upon which the court could conclude that the district court abused its discretion in denying him an additional and last-minute extension of the discovery deadline.