As reported previously, Todd McNair, former USC assistant football coach, sued the NCAA for defamation relating to matters addressed in USC’s major infractions case. In an effort to dismiss the case, the NCAA filed an anti-SLAPP motion claiming the investigation of McNair was thorough and fair and McNair could not win his case for defamation. Judge Fredrick Shaller denied the requested relief and allowed McNair’s suit to continue. The NCAA will likely appeal the anti-SLAPP decision, which gives an immediate right to appeal under California law.
Generally, this is a part of mundane motion practice that occurs in nearly every lawsuit filed in the United States. However, the findings articulated in Judge Shaller’s ten-page ruling were not something normally seen in litigation with the NCAA. Specifically, Judge Shaller stated 1) there is evidence the NCAA acted “malicious[ly]” towards McNair; 2) evidence provided the NCAA had “reckless disregard for the truth”; 3) the NCAA “should have known” aspects of the infractions report were “demonstrably untrue”; 4) the NCAA infractions report “contained material false statements” pertaining to a call between McNair and Lloyd Lake; and 5) McNair has proven “actual malice”. Because McNair is a public figure under the law, he is required to show the NCAA acted with actual malice in publishing defamatory statements about McNair, rather than a lower standard for non-public figures. This proceeding is certainly in the early stages of litigation and the NCAA (and McNair) will likely be afforded the opportunity to present evidence to the trier of fact.