The lawsuit reads, “The emotional distress was severe enough that it has resulted in illness and bodily harm.”
Brian France of Fairfield County, Connecticut has filed a lawsuit against John L. Steele a/k/a Drunken Brian France [@DrunkBrianF] of Sevier County, Tennessee.
France is the former CEO of NASCAR. He resigned following an arrest in New York back in 2018.
On August 5th, 2018, France drove through a stop sign in in his Lexus. A police officer pulled him over. The officer then searched his person where they discovered discovered 5 prescription oxycodone pills.
Widespread initial reports stated France registered a .19 in an initial blood alcohol content during a screening. He then registered a 0.18 in a second blood alcohol test.
Steele has operated a very popular parody account on twitter. @DrunkBrianF has 19,000+ followers.
The bio on the twitter account reads: “The quintessential drunk & oxyfied idiot destroying what my family spent 60+ years building in NASCAR. You can’t be this stupid sober (Parody).”
The account regularly addresses popular NASCAR topics in a comical way. However, the count documents note several tweets that spoke of France in the first-person.
“Steele has used a photograph of Plaintiff for the Twitter account, and, in doing so, referenced the need to update ‘my profile pic’ to insinuate Plaintiff was in fact updating the photograph:”
Brian France vs Drunken Brian France
The lawsuit notes four counts including: Invasion of Privacy – Appropriation of Name/Likeness, Invasion of Privacy – False Light, Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress and Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress.
“Upon information and belief, Steele is the holder and sole active user of @drunkbrianf, a Twitter account falsely impersonating Plaintiff to a global audience,” the lawsuit reads.
“This Court has subject matter jurisdiction over this action because the claims arise from Steele’s tortious and malicious conduct targeting Plaintiff as a resident of this State.”
“Since establishing the account in February 2014, the pattern of Steele’s conduct through @drunkbrianf makes clear the purpose and intent of maintaining the Twitter account: to harass, demean, abuse, belittle, and disparage Plaintiff while impersonating Plaintiff in a manner that is intended – and in fact does – mislead, confuse, and deceive others to believe that Plaintiff is responsible for the content and activity of @drunkbrianf.”
“Plaintiff has sustained, and continues to sustain, damages as a direct result of Steele’s conduct through the Twitter account.”
Brian France seeks $15,000 plus legal fees and demands a trial by jury in the case.
Count One: Invasion of Privacy – Appropriation of Name/Likeness
“Steele’s use of the account is intended to deceive other Twitter users – and anyone else accessing the account while online – to believe that the account belongs to Plaintiff.”
The court papers read, “Steele’s misappropriation of Plaintiff’s likeness and image has directly caused damage to Plaintiff in the form of negative publicity and other physical and emotional harm.”
“Steele’s use of Plaintiff’s name and likeness is intentional and is reflective of Steele’s efforts to use Plaintiff’s notoriety within NASCAR and otherwise to maximize visibility of the Twitter account.”
“Upon information and belief, Plaintiff has benefited from the publicity of the Twitter account, including the use of the Twitter account handle being discussed in newspaper articles and being promoted via sponsorships and advertising.”
Count Two: Invasion of Privacy – False Light
“Steele has published information about Plaintiff on @drunkbrianf and has used Plaintiff’s name, likeness, and image to promote the account.”
“Steele’s use of the Twitter account, and all activity associated with the account, casts Plaintiff in a false and misleading light.”
“The information posted on the Twitter account is highly offensive to a reasonable person insofar as tweets published by Steele – while under the guise of Plaintiff – concern themes of alcohol, substance abuse, misogyny, and indecency.”
“Steele is aware the content is falsely attributed to Plaintiff or, at minimum, has acted in a reckless disregard as to the false and misleading nature of the content posted to the Twitter account and the fact that such content is improperly attributed to Plaintiff.”
Count Three: Intentional Infliction of Emotional Distress
“Given the nature of the Twitter account and pattern of content attributing highly offensive positions and topics to Plaintiff, it is clear that Steele intended to inflict emotional stress upon Plaintiff or that he knew or should have known such a result was a likely result of his conduct.”
“Plaintiff has experienced emotional distress and harm as a result of the Twitter account at issue and the misperception that he is the source of the highly offensive content.”
“The emotional distress and harm sustained by Plaintiff has been – and remains – severe.”
Count Four: Negligent Infliction of Emotional Distress
“The highly offensive tweets and content produced by Steele through the Twitter account, which concern themes of alcohol, substance abuse, misogyny, and indecency, are extreme and outrageous.”
“Steele’s conduct specifically targets Plaintiff and is intended to inflict emotional distress upon Plaintiff.”
“The emotional distress was severe enough that it has resulted in illness and bodily harm.”
“Such damage is the direct and proximate result of Plaintiff’s use of the Twitter account at issue.”
Brian France seeks $15,000 + legal fees from parody account
Award Plaintiff compensatory damages and all other recourse as permitted by law for each of the causes of action set forth above;”
“Award interest as permitted on the recovery of all damages designated above”
It also notes, “Award attorneys’ fees, expenses, and recoverable costs reasonably incurred in connection with the commencement and prosecution of this action”
“For such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”
“Plaintiff demands a trial by jury on all claims so triable as a matter of right. “
Parody account addresses lawsuit; Go Fund me page created
The Brian France parody account has responded to the lawsuit:
Additionally, a GoFundMe page has since been created. Dinah Mullins began the crowd-funding efforts on Friday, March 6, 2020.
“Why are we fighting against this lawsuit? Drunken Brian France is a PARODY twitter handle. Protected under the first amendment and copyright use as fair use,” the GoFundMe page reads.
As of Friday, $4,685 has been raised of $30,000 goal.
Steele has hired Jay M. Wolman of the Randazza Legal Group. The law firm specializes in 1st Amendment cases.
Brian France is being represented by Daniel W. Cohen of Troutman Sanders llp.
What are twitter rules around parody accounts?
Parody accounts are legal. They are also allowed on the twitter platform with the following requirements to apply:
“Bio: The bio should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) “parody,” “fake,” “fan,” or “commentary.” Non-affiliation should be stated in a way that can be understood by the intended audience.”
The bio is done correctly, no twitter violation there.
“Account name: The account name (note: this is separate from the username, or @handle) should clearly indicate that the user is not affiliated with the subject of the account. Non-affiliation can be indicated by incorporating, for example, words such as (but not limited to) “parody,” “fake,” “fan,” or “commentary.” Non-affiliation should be stated in a way that can be understood by the intended audience.”
An argument could be made that use of the word “Drunken” in the twitter name allows this account to comply with twitter rules.
However, twitter rules don’t apply to court cases.