Robert Steinbuch Loses Another Round–Steinbuch v. Hachette

By Eric Goldman

Steinbuch v. Hachette Book Group, 2009 WL 963588 (E.D. Ark. April 8, 2009). The Justia page.

Law professor Robert Steinbuch, a male “protagonist” from the notorious and risque Washingtonienne blog by Jessica Cutler, suffered another courtroom loss. As far as I can tell, he is fighting the battle against Cutler now on three fronts: (1) the 4 year old lawsuit against Jessica Cutler directly, (2) a lawsuit against Hyperion, the publisher of Jessica’s novel (after the district court dismissal, the lawsuit was partially revived by the 8th Circuit), and (3) this lawsuit against Hachette, the distributor for the Hyperion-published book.

In this ruling, the court grants Hachette’s 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss with leave to amend. Overall, the court criticizes Steinbuch (who is now acting pro se) for a sloppy complaint:

Despite the enumeration of six claims for relief, the real nature of Steinbuch’s claim, as alleged in the complaint, appears to be a claim for public disclosure of private facts. Little effort appears to have been made to plead more than labels and conclusions with respect to the other five claims for relief. On each of those claims, Steinbuch appears to rely on a formulaic recitation of the elements of the cause of action, which the Supreme Court has held will not do.

It’s not exactly clear how rulings like this improve Steinbuch’s reputation.

Because of the conclusory allegations, the court breezily dismisses the claims other that public disclosure of private facts. That claim fails because Steinbuch did not allege the heightened scienter required to hold book distributors liable for the books they distribute. The court also notes, without resolving, potential concerns about Steinbuch’s core argument that Cutler violates Steinbuch’s privacy by disclosing their mutual sexual affair:

it should be noted that the parties have not briefed, and the Court has not considered, the issue of whether, if A and B conjoin [Eric’s note: conjoin???] in a private place, and A later decides to publish an account of her experience in that encounter, B can bring an action for invasion of privacy. To put it another way, in that circumstance, does A need B’s consent to publish an account of her experience with him?

As I’ve said before, 3 separate lawsuits spanning 4 years qualifies in my book as a really bad breakup.