Taylor Swift won her legal case brought by fired DJ David Mueller Mueller who sued the singer after she and her employees allegedly told Mueller’s employer that Mueller, “grabbed [Taylor Swift’s] buttocks beneath her dress” during a photo shoot. A professional photograph of the moment in question can be viewed here.
Mueller sued Taylor Swift for defamation and “tortious interference with his employment contract”; that is, that Taylor Swift’s allegation about the butt grab was fabricated, that she wrongfully pressured the radio station to fire him, causing Mr. Mueller three-million dollars in damage. In response, Taylor Swift counter-sued Mr. Mueller for assault and battery (the intentional, harmful and/or offensive touching of her person without her consent). Taylor Swift won and was awarded $1.00, as she had requested.
There have been lots of neat legal takes since the publication of Part One of this article:
5. Taylor Swift Won “Summary Judgment”
At the end of Muller’s presentation of his evidence supporting his claims against Taylor Swift for tortious interference with his employment contract (called his “case-in-chief”), Taylor Swift submitted a “motion for summary judgment”. In short, a motion for summary judgment (called a “MSJ” by lawyers) is an argument that in light of all the evidence, that there is no longer any dispute on the facts and therefore one person must automatically win. If a motion for summary judgment is granted, the “moving party” (here, Taylor Swift) automatic wins the issue and the jury does not get to decide the claim.
In this case, Taylor Swift argued that even after Mueller’s presentation of evidence, the undisputed evidence was that she did not personally influence Mueller’s termination of employment. In other words, Taylor Swift did not cause Mueller to be terminated. The MSJ victory was a mixed bag for Swift because Mueller’s claims against Taylor Swift’s mother and employees still went to the jury and were not automatically won. Even after the MSJ victory, Taylor Swift could have still been found “vicariously liable” for the acts of her employees (the legal principal of "respondeat superior"). In other words, Taylor Swift was still on the financial hook for any wrongdoing…assuming Mr. Mueller prevailed. Swift’s claims for assault and battery against Mueller still went forward after she won MSJ.
This was Taylor Swift’s second summary judgment victory. The first summary judgment motion tossed out Mr. Mueller’s claim for defamation (the publication of a disparaging statement that causes reputational harm) for not being filed within the legal deadline or “statute of limitations.”
California employees should note that motions for summary judgment are extremely common in employment discrimination, wrongful termination claims, and wage-and-hour class actions. Motions for summary judgments are always big consequential battles involving lots of legal work and preparation.
6. Mr. Mueller’s Attorney Took A Big Gamble in Closing Argument
Closing arguments (both sides’ final arguments to summarize their version of the case for the jury) were dramatic. Mueller’s (male) lawyer argued that Taylor Swift’s visible reaction was not consistent with a person who had just had her butt grabbed. Commenting on the photo Muller’s attorney said, “Look at her face, is that the face of someone who just had her butt grabbed? Is that the face of someone who is upset?” Muller’s attorney made a big gamble in making this argument because the eight person jury, six of whom were female, may have found it offensive.
The attorney’s inference –while arguably plausible- assumes that all persons would have a uniform, split-second visible reaction when being groped on camera. For example, some people may react in immediate visible disgust, while other people may freeze in absolute panic and shock, others still may have a delayed reaction caused from absolute disbelief of Mueller's outrageous behavior. Similarly, Taylor Swift testified that she did not want to draw immediate negative attention and spoil the entire event for the rest of her fans at the photo shoot. Moreover, why would Swift –now a proven victim of a sexual assault- want to compound the already horrible experience and go through additional public humiliation in the media after creating a scene? Swift's testimony is also consistent with the fact that it was Muller who initiated the lawsuit against Swift.
It is common for jurors to be interviewed by lawyers after a verdict is reached. It will be interesting to see how the jury reacted to Muller’s closing arguments and if it had any influence.
7. The Jury Deliberated for Under Four Hours
The jury deliberated for less than four hours before reaching a decision (“verdict”) against Mueller, and wrapped up the same day as closing argument. This is interesting because some juries will take several days or even much longer when deciding a case (called “deliberating”). Generally speaking, it is very bad for plaintiffs (in this case, Mueller) if the jury deliberates for just a few hours before reaching a verdict. This is frequently a sign that the Plaintiff will lose.
The quick jury deliberation was also an indication that that there was probably not a lot of disagreement among the jurors on essential facts, including the disputed issue of Mr. Mueller’s credibility. As predicted in Part One of this article, Swift’s attorney latched onto Mr. Mueller’s destruction of a secret recording in closing argument, referring to him as a, “Story telling evidence destroyer.”
Lastly, the fact that the jury reached a verdict the same day as closing argument may be an indication that the jury wanted to finish the case and go home rather than come back for an additional day of deliberation. It is generally bad for plaintiffs when jurors are eager to go home because it is often easier to simply find in favor of the defendant.
8. The Plaintiff Wants to Take A Polygraph
Mueller is still adamant that he did not inappropriately grab Taylor Swift and he has stated that he can pass a polygraph (lie detector) test to establish his innocence. Readers may be surprised to learn that, with some exceptions, that polygraph tests are generally inadmissible in federal court as unreliable scientific evidence. Absent an agreement with Swift’s lawyers (called a “stipulation”) Mueller probably would not have had a chance to enter polygraph results into evidence even if he had taken one.
Even if Mueller takes and passes a polygraph test, it will be too little too late. The legal principal of res judicata (pronounced “rez joodi kata”) would bar Mueller from re-litigating his claims against Swift. In other words, plaintiffs are not allowed multiple bites at the apple. Mueller is also barred from presenting new evidence, including polygraph results, if he appeals the verdict.
Celebrity trials like Mueller v. Swift always get a lot of publicity. But most of the time the interesting legal issues never make the headlines!
Brian Mathias is a California plaintiff’s employment lawyer and a former assistant professor of constitutional law in Santa Cruz, California. Brian represents employees in all aspects of employment law including discrimination, wrongful termination, unpaid overtime, and class action litigation. www.brianmathiaslaw.com