Judge dismisses defamation suit filed by the Abbey

Wave Wire Services

WEST HOLLYWOOD — A judge has dismissed defamation and trade libel claims brought by the Abbey bar against a comedy writer and actress over her allegation that she was drugged by a bartender at the establishment, despite video footage to the contrary.

Finalizing his tentative ruling from the day before, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Daniel S. Murphy said Nov. 17 he is allowing only the Abbey’s claims for breach of contract against Haely Smalle, also known as Haely White, to go to trial. The judge issued his ruling after hearing arguments in the morning.

The Abbey’s attorney, Christopher Reeder, previously dropped a claim for breach of the covenant of good faith and fair dealing.

Murphy said in his ruling that based on online reports White read of others allegedly being served spiked drinks at the Abbey, White had a reasonable belief she had been drugged by an Abbey bartender and therefore she did not act with actual malice.

The judge cited White’s sworn declaration, in which she said: “From all of this evidence, I concluded that, like the other people who reported similar experiences, I had been roofied during my visit to the Abbey. I attributed this act to a bartender, but now that I have reviewed the video provided to me by the Abbey, I can see that neither the bartender nor anyone else tampered with my drink after it was poured.”

The Abbey’s suit was filed Aug. 17, seeking more than $5 million in damages. The restaurant has had a substantial business loss due to White’s posting, including cancellations and a drop in customers, according to Reeder, who estimated the losses at $1 million and urged the judge to allow a jury to decide whether the bar was defamed.

“This is a very important case you are deciding,” Reeder told the judge, saying that to not properly hold White answerable would allow others to post false statements on social media, then claim later that they made a mistake. White’s actions not only hurt a business trying to recover from a year-long shutdown because of the coronavirus pandemic, but also accused a bartender of doing something he didn’t do, Reeder said.

“What Ms. White did was disgusting and this court is the forum to hold her accountable,” Reeder said.

But White’s attorney, Robert Shore, disputed the Abbey’s damage claims and said something happened to his client at the bar that night to make her ill, but exactly what is so far uncertain.

According to the suit, White went on social media Aug. 3 and said she was “severely drugged by a bartender” at the Abbey on July 29 and encouraged people to “spread the word” and boycott the bar, the suit states.

White also said she “never let her one drink out of her hands.”

However, Abbey video footage accounts for nearly every moment she was at the bar except for 11 minutes in which she and her female companion were in the restroom together, the suit states.

“The footage shows that during her time at the Abbey, nothing out of the ordinary was put in her drink,” the suit states. “At no time can any Abbey personnel, or any other person for that matter, be seen tampering with her drink.”

After her posting, the Abbey reviewed video footage and notified White that her statements were incorrect and offered to allow her to review the video of the night, which she eventually accepted, the suit states.

“Despite notification from the Abbey of these facts, White defiantly continued to propagate her false claims, resulting in countless re-publications of her statements,” the suit states.

The Abbey sent White, through her lawyer, a cease-and-desist letter demanding she stop making any further defamatory statements and that she post a corrective statement apologizing for her allegations.

White partially removed some of her statements from social media, but not all of them, prompting the Abbey to follow up several times, according to the suit.

The Abbey and White reached a settlement agreement and release of White from liability conditioned on the writer prominently posting a correction statement to her various social media by a specified deadline, but the correction statement was not posted as prominently as she had promised and she breached the terms by contradicting and retracting her correction statement with another posting, the suit states.

White subsequently tweeted, “Obviously, what happened to me that evening was shocking and painful. … However, based on my review of video footage, I now believe that what happened to me that night was not the fault of The Abbey or their staff.

“Having met with The Abbey staff to review video from the night I was there, I believe their actions demonstrate they are truly concerned about the safety of their patrons, and take measures to make their establishment safe,” she continued.

However, less than 24 hours after posting the corrective statement, White posted another statement to Instagram, which read in part: “Since earlier publicly posted details lacked key information, it’s important you hear the entirety of what happened. The video footage that I have reviewed does not show the bartender placing anything in my drink. There is an important additional detail — the footage also shows me collapsing off the seat at a booth not long after having my drink. It shows me being assisted out of the bar by a friend. … I was completely coherent in a phone conversation with my husband just 15 minutes before entering the bar, and didn’t get my drink at The Abbey until nearly 30 minutes after arriving, at least a full hour after a drink I had at dinner. I also have never felt so sick in my life with one exception — when I was roofied many years ago.”