The infamous Joseph Edgar Foreman, also known as "Afroman" recently failed in his effort to have the court dismiss a lawsuit that several members of the Adams County, Ohio Sheriff’s Department filed against him. The suit resulted in part from Afroman's song and video called "Lemon Pound Cake."
The case arose when Adams County Sheriff Deputies obtained and executed a search warrant on Afroman's Adams County home. Afroman wasn't home at the time, but his wife captured the police on her cell phone camera and home security cameras captured other images. Afroman incorporated many of the images in his Lemon Poundcake video. It appears the song was inspired when one of the cops appeared to look longingly at the pound cake as he was executing the warrant.
Afroman also used the images of the cops on t-shirts and other merchandise, in ways that ridiculed the police and their behavior. Afroman also made several statements on social media about the police officers involved in the search. In one post, he contended the cops "stole my money" and were "criminals camouflaged by law enforcement." In another, he accused the police of being white supremacists. He stated that one of the cops "used to do hard drugs," "snitched on all his friends" and now steals money from traffic stops.
Seven police officers filed suit against Afroman and several of his related business interests, alleging that Afroman improperly used their likeness for commercial purposes, that he placed them in a false light, and that he defamed them. Afroman filed a motion to dismiss the complaint in its entirety. The court ruled partially in his favor, but allowed part of the complaint to move forward.
The court initially denied the claims for commercial misappropriation. In its view, the police images had no commercial value. Rather, it found that Afroman was aggrieved by the execution of the search warrant "and chose to demonstrate his displeasure while at the same time selling his merchandise based on his own celebrity." In other words, Afroman wasn't using the police images as a selling point.
Afroman did not fare as well with his efforts to dismiss the false light and defamation claims. Here, the court concluded that for purposes of false light, Afroman publicized false facts about the cops which would be "highly offensive to a reasonable person." These allegations were sufficient to state a claim for false light invasion of privacy.
In the same way, the court found that the police plaintiffs set out a viable defamation claim. Claims that the police stole money, or had previously used drugs were the type of statements that would cause reputational harm. The court did not agree that these statements constituted opinion, as they were each provably false.
The case will now move forward to discovery. It's possible that Afroman will be able to prove the truth of his claims, and it's also possible that the court will revisit the opinion defense. The police will also need to show that they were actually damaged. In short, Afroman has miles to go before he sleeps.
We'll keep an eye on this one. Lawsuits are rarely this entertaining.