John E. Reid and Associates, a police training firm, filed the suit last fall, alleging that the series had falsely portrayed the “Reid Technique,” its widely used method for conducting interrogations.
In his ruling, Judge Manish S. Shah found that the series’ depiction was protected under the First Amendment.
The four-part Netflix series covered the conviction and ultimate exoneration of five black and Latino teenagers who were accused of assaulting and raping a woman in Central Park in 1989. In the series, a fictionalized prosecutor confronts an NYPD detective with the allegation that he had coerced a confession.
“You squeezed statements out of them after 42 hours of questioning and coercing, without food, bathroom breaks, withholding parental supervision,” the character says. “The Reid Technique has been universally rejected.”
The police training firm alleged that the statement falsely characterized the technique, and incorrectly stated that the technique had been “universally rejected.”
But Shah found that the show employed loose and hyperbolic rhetoric about the technique, protecting it from a defamation claim.
“‘Universally’ is hyperbolic and the prosecutor cannot be taken literally to assert that all intelligent life in the known universe has rejected the technique — which means his statement is an imprecise, overwrought exclamation,” Shah wrote. “The statement was also made by a fictionalized character, during a fictionalized conversation… And while labeling something ‘fictitious’ will not insulate it from a defamation action… placing non-verifiable hyperbole in the mouth of a fictionalized character with an ax to grind provides a few layers of protection from civil damages for defamation.”
Last week, former prosecutor Linda Fairstein filed her own defamation lawsuit against Netflix and DuVernay over the series, claiming that she was falsely portrayed as the racist mastermind behind the prosecution of the Central Park Five.
Netflix said it would vigorously defend that lawsuit.