Kathy Griffin must face lawsuit by man seen on video insulting teen boy wearing a dress to prom


FILE – Comedian Kathy Griffin arrives at the 2018 GQ’s Men of the Year Celebration in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Dec. 6, 2018. Griffin has revealed that she is undergoing surgery for lung cancer and her doctors are optimistic she “should be up and running around as usual in a month or less.” The comedian took to Instagram and Twitter Monday to say her cancer is considered stage one and confined to her left lung. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP, File)

The Tennessee man who blames comedian Kathy Griffin for losing his job after he was seen insulting a prom-going teenage boy wearing a dress will have his day in court.

Samuel Johnson, the one-time CEO of a telemedicine company in Nashville, sued Griffin in April 2022 after she posted to her social media a video appearing to show Johnson confronting a group of prom-going teenagers in the courtyard of a hotel, following a boy who was wearing a red gown and telling the teen he “looks like an idiot.” Johnson also appears to strike the person recording the interaction and smiling as adults plead with him to walk away and leave the teens alone.

According to Johnson’s complaint, Griffin shared the video — which had originally been posted by one of the teens — to her millions of followers on X, the social media network formerly known as Twitter, in which she identified Johnson and his company.

“If this is Sam Johnson in Nashville, Tennessee, the CEO of @VisuWell, healthcare-tech-growth strategist, married to Jill Johnson where they may reside in Franklin, Tennessee, it seems like he’s dying to be online famous,” she wrote in her post, according to the complaint.

Within days, Johnson had lost his job as CEO of VisuWell. Johnson sued Griffin — who herself faced severe backlash for posing for a photograph in which she appeared to hold the bloodied, decapitated head of then-President Donald Trump — for harassment, interference with employment, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. In March, U.S. District Judge William L. Campbell, Jr., a Trump appointee, dismissed the complaint, finding that Griffin’s actions didn’t have sufficient “minimum contacts” with the Volunteer State in order to justify the court asserting jurisdiction.

On Oct. 31, the Sixth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that decision, finding that Griffin’s posts did place her squarely within Tennessee’s jurisdiction.

“Griffin’s repeated emphasis of Johnson’s residence in Franklin and the company’s home base in Nashville hammers that home,” the nine-page opinion written by Chief U.S. Circuit Judge Jeffrey S. Sutton, a George W. Bush appointee, said. “She ‘undoubtedly knew’ that the ‘focal point’ of her tweets concerned Tennessee.”

The appellate court said that Griffin had a history of targeting people online.

“As with other incidents in which Griffin has ‘doxed’ individuals by accusing them of bad behavior and posting their addresses and workplaces on the internet, her tweet identified Johnson as a Nashville-based ‘healthcare-tech-growth strategist’ and the CEO of VisuWell,” the ruling says. “She also tagged VisuWell, which meant that the tweet went directly to VisuWell and which enabled her readers to link directly to the company’s profile if they wanted to add their two cents.”

The judges said that Griffin’s post “had real world consequences for Tennessee: Johnson not only lost his livelihood, but VisuWell also lost its leader and likely customers.”

The judges noted that the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals had previously ruled in favor of Griffin in a different case stemming from her social media activity. Griffin was sued after demanding that students from Kentucky’s Covington Catholic High School seen confronting Native American activist Nathan Phillips in Washington, D.C., in 2019 be identified. In 2020, the appeals court agreed that the case should be dismissed because Griffin’s posts didn’t target the state of Kentucky specifically, and the complaint hadn’t argued that she had.

Not so in this case, the judges said.

“Here, Griffin directly communicated with VisuWell in her first tweet and, after that tweet prompted his firing, she followed up directly with VisuWell to urge it to dismiss Johnson from its Board of Directors, all while promising more harassment if the Tennessee company did not bow to her wishes,” the judges wrote. “Unlike Griffin’s tweets that affected Kentucky after its students returned home, her contacts with VisuWell went beyond targeting the Johnsons to affecting ‘the state’ and indeed its ‘economy,’ ‘more broadly.’ While Griffin’s tweets in [the Covington case] arose from conduct in Washington, these tweets drew on a Tennessee source — the boyfriend’s video — to attack a Tennessee resident for his conduct in Tennessee.”

Sutton was joined by U.S. Circuit Judge Amul R. Thapar, a Donald Trump appointee, while Senior Judge R. Guy Cole, Jr., a Bill Clinton appointee, wrote a separate concurring opinion that also concluded that jurisdiction over Griffin was proper in this case.

Read the decision here.

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