Lee Daniels Files Motion to Dismiss Sean Penn’s Defamation Suit

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Daniels and Penn. Photo: Getty Images

Lee Daniels has filed a motion to dismiss Sean Penn's defamation suit against him, ET reports. In the motion, the Empire showrunner's team says the lawsuit is a "financially draining" intimidation tactic on the part of Penn: "With fame, money and high-priced legal counsel, Penn has the power to buy most things. Fortunately for Daniels, the First Amendment is not for sale."

The lawsuit stems from remarks Daniels made during the Empire press tour about Terrence Howard's history of domestic violence. As he put it to THR, "[Howard] ain't done nothing different than Marlon Brando or Sean Penn, and all of a sudden he's some f---in' demon. That's a sign of the time, of race, of where we are right now in America." The comparison prompted a swift legal response from Penn, who has long been rumored to have abused Madonna during their marriage in the 1980s; the actor sued Daniels for $10 million in damages, saying the director's statements were "reckless, false, and defamatory." "Daniels has falsely asserted and/or implied that Penn is guilty of ongoing, continuous violence against women," the suit stated. "[W]hile [Penn] has certainly had several brushes with the law, Penn (unlike Howard) has never been arrested, much less convicted, for domestic violence, as his ex-wives (including Madonna) would confirm and attest."

In his new motion, Daniels says that his remarks, however much they may have hurt Penn's feelings, don't meet the legal standard for defamation. "While Penn may have personally experienced the challenged statement as offensive, he must now demonstrate that the statement is reasonably susceptible to a defamatory meaning," the motion argues. "He has not, and cannot. The challenged statement is constitutionally protected opinion, and New York courts have repeatedly emphasized the need to summarily reject defamation claims brought to bully those who dare exercise their constitutional right of free speech."