In November 2021, Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook was accused of battery and assault, among other accusations, in a complaint filed by former girlfriend Gracelyn Trimble in a Minnesota state District Court. In December, Cook filed an answer denying the allegations and asserting multiple counterclaims, including – notably – a counterclaim for defamation, which Trimble responded to by filing a Motion to Dismiss Cook’s defamation claim, among other claims. Previously, Conduct Detrimental broke down the lawsuit and defenses raised by Cook.
Now, Judge Jamie L. Cork has ruled on Trimble’s Motion to Dismiss Cook’s defamation claim, and the Conduct Detrimental team has had an opportunity to review Judge Cork’s Order. In denying Trimble’s Motion to Dismiss, Judge Cork appears to have bought into the argument set forth by Dalvin Cook’s lawyers as to the importance of when an article detailing the lawsuit was posted by the Minneapolis Star Tribune. The problem, Cook’s lawyers argue, was that the lawsuit against Cook was filed at 9:01 PM on November 9, 2021 but that the Minneapolis Star Tribune article – detailing the lawsuit – was posted on November 9, 2021 at 8:54 PM, before Trimble filed the lawsuit. How did the Star Tribune know about the contents of the lawsuit before it was filed? That’s the question at the heart of this round of motion practice. Not surprisingly, this 7-minute head start might have made all the difference with respect to these counterclaims and the viability of Cook’s defamation claim.
The basis of Cook’s defamation claim is the allegations included in the Tribune’s article, which include allegations that Cook “physically abused” Trimble. In their Motion to Dismiss, Trimble’s attorneys argued that Minnesota Law protects the statements made to the Tribune under the judicial privilege rule. Judge Cook disagreed, noting that the judicial privilege rule is generally limited to protecting communications during judicial proceedings. Here, the Judge appears to have denied the motion because the optics are that the contents of the complaint were shared before the lawsuit was filed which meant that the communications did not technically occur during the judicial proceeding.
In other words, it appears that Judge Cork took issue with the timing of the statements and the publication to third parties outside of the judicial process. Specifically noting that defamatory pleadings “are privileged” but “cannot be a predicate for dissemination of the defamatory matter to the public or third parties not connected with the judicial proceeding.” Thus, for protection under judicial privilege, Judge Cork made it clear that (1) the statement must be in a pleading (as noted above, Cook’s lawyers argue the Complaint was filed seven minutes after the statement was published) and (2) must be made to a party connected to the judicial process. In this case, Judge Cork found that the Star Tribune is not connected to the judicial process. Therefore, Judge Cork denied Trimble’s Motion to Dismiss.
In light of Judge Cork’s ruling, the best practice here seemingly would have been to wait until AFTER filing the lawsuit to avail oneself of the judicial privilege rule. For high-profile litigation matters, speaking about a client’s case represents an additional obstacle. Here, publishing a statement before the filing of the Complaint seems to be the key reason as to why Judge Cook denied the Motion to Dismiss, which becomes a valuable lesson for attorneys—exercise extreme caution in both WHAT you say to the media and WHEN you say it.
As it turns out, clock management is equally important on and off the field.
 Article later updated on November 10, 2021