Court reverses $1.35M awarded to Jesse Ventura in 'American Sniper' defamation case

Story highlights

  • Chris Kyle claimed that Ventura made remarks he found offensive at a gathering of Navy SEALs in 2006
  • Ventura claims Kyle "fabricated the entire interaction"

(CNN)A Minnesota federal appeals court has reversed an earlier ruling that awarded $1.35 million to former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura from the estate of Chris Kyle, the deceased former Navy SEAL, over a defamation lawsuit.

Ventura had filed the suit after Kyle, the author of "American Sniper," claimed in his best-selling autobiography that the two were involved in a physical altercation at a bar in 2006. The former Minnesota governor claimed Kyle's book sales were boosted after Kyle, who in the book recounts a bar fight he had with a man he called "Scruff Face," revealed that the man was Ventura, himself a former Navy SEAL.
    The three circuit judges in Minneapolis ordered the judgment to be vacated on the ground that Ventura didn't have a contractual agreement with Kyle, according to court documents filed Monday.
    CNN has reached out for comment from lawyers on both sides of the case.
    In "American Sniper," Kyle claimed that "Scruff Face" made remarks he found offensive at a gathering of Navy SEALs in 2006 at McP's, a bar in Coronado, California, following the funeral of a SEAL killed in combat. According to Kyle's account, he "approached Scruff and asked him to 'cool it.'" "Scruff," Kyle claims, responded by saying, "You deserve to lose a few" and throwing a punch at him. The account ends with Kyle claiming he "laid him out. Tables flew. Stuff happened. Scruff Face ended up on the floor."
    Ventura claims Kyle "fabricated the entire interaction" and testified that while he was in fact at the bar that night, he "had a normal evening without any verbal or physical altercation."
    At least seven witnesses testified in court on behalf of both Kyle and Ventura supporting their account of events that night, but the jury sided with Ventura in 2014, almost eight years after the alleged incident, and he was awarded $1.35 million for unjust enrichment, as well as $500,000 for defamation, which was vacated by the court on Monday and will be sent back to court for a new trial.
    The appellate court did not rule on whose accounts of the events it believes are true but whether "unjust enrichment" laws hold up in Minnesota and whether Ventura's lawyers improperly referenced an insurance policy covering Kyle's publisher, HarperCollins, from defamation settlements.
    In the decision, the panel stated that unjust enrichment laws "enjoys no legal support under Minnesota law" and that remarks from Ventura's counsel "prevented Kyle from receiving a fair trial."