Former professional wrestler turned Minnesota Governor Jesse Ventura hopes to take his million-dollar fight with the family of slain Navy SEAL Chris Kyle to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Ventura plans to appeal to the high court after a three-judge appellate panel overturned a verdict awarding him almost $2 million in a defamation suit.
The Kyle-Ventura spat stems from an account in Kyle’s 2012 bestselling memoir “American Sniper,” which conveys an allegedly fictitious encounter in 2006 at a California bar between Kyle and the former WWE star, styled “Scruff Face” in the text. The pair allegedly traded blows as a heated political parley devolved to fisticuffs. Ventura maintains that Kyle’s version of events is entirely fabricated, and that a fight never occurred.
“Scruff started running his mouth about the war and everything and anything he could connect to it,” Kyle wrote. “President Bush was an asshole. We were only over there [Iraq] because Bush wanted to show up his father. We were doing the wrong thing, killing men and women and children and murdering … Scruff said he hates America.” He further alleged Ventura claimed that the 9/11 terrorist attacks were a conspiracy orchestrated by the Bush administration.
Kyle’s description of events was widely syndicated in mass media. Court filings indicate the alleged encounter was discussed in interviews with the veteran sniper on talk radio and cable news.
Ventura brought a libel and unjust enrichment action against the Kyle family in 2o14, months after he was murdered by a former Marine with PTSD. He told the Star Tribune that his reputation and quality of life have declined dramatically as a result of Kyle’s allegations.
“A guy from Texas screamed at me … about what I am doing to Chris Kyle and his family,” he said of a recent trip to Mexico. “Screamed at me in front of the whole lobby. That’s what I’ve lived with.”
A jury found in Ventura’s favor 8-2 in 2014, suggesting $500,000 in compensatory damages on the defamation charge and $1.35 million on the unjust enrichment charge. Kyle’s family appealed the ruling to the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A three-judge panel found in Kyle’s favor, ruling that the district court had improperly allowed argument alleging a key witness’s testimony was biased because of liability exposure. They further found that Ventura had not demonstrated that he had a pre-existing contractual relationship with Kyle, a necessary element of an unjust enrichment finding. (RELATED: Appeals Court: Chris Kyle’s Widow Doesn’t Owe Jesse Ventura A Damn Thing)
Both verdicts were vacated by 8th Circuit, which ordered a new trial. Now, Ventura plans to petition the Supreme Court to reinstate the jury finding.
“I feel I’ll win again,” Ventura told the Star Tribune. “Every time I’m the major underdog, guess who comes and makes me the favorite? The people. The people will come and take me from underdog status to victory.”
Should Ventura formally petition the justices to hear the case, they are unlikely to take the matter up. The Supreme Court seldom intervenes in civil litigation of this nature, since Ventura’s claim does not implicate any major constitutional issues or controversies.
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