Richard Carrier Loses His Lawsuit (Again)

Richard Carrier Loses His Lawsuit (Again) December 4, 2019

This is a sequel that should never have been written, but it has a happy(ish) ending.

Last year, I wrote about Richard Carrier’s spite lawsuit against a bunch of atheist bloggers and conferences who accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior, or who reported on those allegations.

Carrier filed the lawsuit in Ohio – where he himself had moved just a few weeks previously, and which conveniently has no anti-SLAPP law – in a bid to haul the defendants from all over the country into his home field. That proved to be a poor choice, since the judge threw out his suit for lack of jurisdiction, although only after tens of thousands of dollars had been spent on legal wrangling.

After his first loss, Carrier threatened to re-sue all the defendants individually in their home jurisdictions. I thought that was just bluster to salve his wounded ego, but it turned out he had sunk too much into his quest to give up.

He filed three more lawsuits, against PZ Myers in Minnesota, against Skepticon in Missouri, and against Amy Frank (the student who accused him of inappropriate behavior) in Arizona. However, this time he was acting as his own lawyer. Either he couldn’t afford to hire another lawyer, or he couldn’t find one in any of those states who thought his case had merit.

One problem for this new round of lawsuits was that the statute of limitations had elapsed in all three states. However, Carrier was breezily certain it wouldn’t be a problem:

There are principles in law like “tolling the statute” that cover that. What will happen is that the defense will file a motion to dismiss on statute, and we’ll file a brief in opposition arguing the statute was satisfied by the cause of action having been initiated within the appropriate time and was delayed by legal process. Since you can’t file in multiple jurisdictions simultaneously, and it’s generally agreed the law cannot expect you to do the impossible, a dismissal for jurisdiction in one venue can warrant something akin to statute tolling elsewhere as the action seeks an appropriate venue. It’s all very technical. But the upshot is, odds are, this won’t be an obstacle. It will just be a waste of billed hours fighting a useless motion and then the case will move forward.

These words should be engraved in stone as evidence of Carrier’s smug overconfidence, because a Missouri court, the first of the three to hear his new case, promptly threw it out. There are extraordinary circumstances where the statute of limitations can be suspended, but “I filed my first lawsuit in the wrong place and I want a do-over” isn’t one of them.

But there’s even better news. Before the other two courts got around to ruling on the statute-of-limitations argument, the defendants filed a countersuit in Arizona, and when the costs to defend himself started to pile up, Carrier panicked. (Apparently, defending yourself against a lawsuit is really expensive! Who could’ve known?)

Shortly thereafter, he gave in and agreed to dismiss all his lawsuits with prejudice, meaning he can never refile them. This story is over, for good this time. PZ’s post includes a link to Carrier’s capitulation.

There’s a comical postscript: in a new video, PZ reports that Carrier is now saying he withdrew his lawsuits voluntarily because it’s the holiday season and he’s just that nice.

I can’t imagine who he thinks he’s fooling. This is sour grapes on a level with the immortal Dril tweet:

As PZ points out, when Carrier filed his original lawsuit, he had three demands: that all the accusations against him be erased from the internet; that none of the defendants ever discuss them again; and that he receive $2 million (!!) in damages. He got none of those things. If his intent was to “clear his name” by obtaining a retraction or an apology, he failed at that as well. He didn’t get even a token concession from the people he sued.

If Carrier voluntarily decided to be magnanimous, it marks a sharp turnaround from what he said on his own blog just last year:

I have actual logged lost revenue from disinvites and non-invites (conference and non) and can show declines in patronage and sales, both actual and potential (e.g. opportunity losses). You also recover expected lifetime losses, not just past losses. So even a small per annum loss adds up to a large award.

But if you ever read a civil complaint for defamation you’ll know financial damages aren’t the only recoverable damages.

Actual damages include, and are not even limited to, loss of prestige and respect (for scholars and public figures, that has a dollar value, and my social status extends well beyond the atheist community, but also took demonstrable harm in the atheist community), emotional distress (there is a dollar value to emotional labor and pain resulting from the related public abuse and anxiety that being falsely accused entails, as well as the damages to social relationships; I even have medical records showing a weight loss from stress the first year as documentation).

Plus, and this is most important, I get my legal costs recovered.

Now he’ll get none of those costs covered, nor will he get any compensation for the injuries he says he’s suffered. Whoops! What did Bayesian reasoning say about the likelihood of this outcome?

Walking away with nothing must sting – especially because, according to someone involved in the first case, Carrier drained a significant amount of his retirement savings to pay his legal bills. He’s got to be hurting financially, since since being a freelance scholar of classical history isn’t what you’d call a richly rewarding career path.

But this outcome was baked into the case from the beginning. Even if Carrier had won, none of the people he sued were rich, nor were there huge sums of money at stake. (Being an atheist blogger and speaker isn’t a path to riches. Ask me how I know.)

He would never have gotten the million-dollar payday he demanded. At most, he might have gotten a token sum. And I refuse to believe he didn’t know that. This story is and always was about his own ego, which apparently mattered so much to him that he was willing to commit an act of financial self-immolation in its service.

But the wounded ego of a mediocre man can still do enormous damage. The people that Carrier sued collectively racked up over $200,000 in legal bills. That much money could have done tremendous good for the secular cause we all believe in. Instead, it was wasted to achieve nothing, except enriching lawyers.

And they’re still paying it off. I’ve donated some money to help settle their account, and I encourage you to do the same:

https://www.gofundme.com/f/defense-vs-carrier-slapp

Image credit: David Weekly, released under CC BY 2.0 license


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