'Dance Moms' Lawsuit: Defamation, Distress Don't Make the Cut

By Brett Snider, Esq. on November 19, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"Dance Moms" star Kelly Hyland had some of her legal claims cut by a judge in her suit against the show's co-star, Abby Lee Miller.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hyland and her two daughters' suit was trimmed of its defamation and infliction of emotional distress claims by a California state judge. The Hylands' suit alleged that Miller had implied that Hyland was "an unfit mother and an alcoholic" and that the two girls were traumatized by Abby's highly dramatic coaching style.

Why didn't a judge buy that these claims were legit?

Opinion, Not Defamation

The Hylands filed their suit against Miller and "Dance Moms" in February, claiming that a November 2013 fight between Hyland and dance coach Miller led Miller to make defamatory statements. Hyland claims that Miller told media outlets like ABC's "The View" and TMZ that Hyland had yanked out clumps of Miller's hair. Hyland's lawyers took this to mean that Miller was accusing Hyland of a criminal act (e.g., assault), but the Los Angeles judge presiding over her case didn't buy it.

Suggesting that someone committed a crime can be an example of defamation, but remember that truth is an absolute defense to defamation. Similarly, when subjective statements are made about a person (e.g., negative opinions), these statements are not typically defamatory.

Defamation involves publishing statements which are not truthful, and personal opinions do not have real truth value. Judge Ruth Ann Kwan determined that Miller's opinion on Hyland as a mother might be hurtful, but they aren't the stuff of defamation.

What About Infliction of Emotional Distress?

Judge Kwan's decision this week also means Hyland can't claim that her girls were damaged (in a legal way) by Miller's somewhat aggressive attitude toward her dance students. The suit claimed that Paige and Brooke Hyland were traumatized by Miller's "domineering and often bullying and insulting leadership style" -- including one confrontation when Miller threw a chair.

But Judge Kwan didn't buy it. Without any psychiatric reports that tie the girls' anxiety to Miller, the tough coaching was just assumed to be another stressor in the girls' lives.

Accoring to THR, the Hylands still have their breach of contract and negligence claims to pursue against Miller and the "Dance Moms" production company, so the legal competition is far from over.

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