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California Judge Dismisses Elon Musk’s Request to Drop Defamation Suit Filed By Indian American

California Judge Dismisses Elon Musk’s Request to Drop Defamation Suit Filed By Indian American

  • Tesla critic and short-seller Randeep Hothi filed a lawsuit against the Tesla CEO alleging that Musk falsely accused him of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees.

A California state judge’s recent ruling bore good news for Randeep Hothi, an outspoken Tesla critic and short-seller, who had filed a defamation lawsuit against Elon Musk in August 2020. In a Jan. 27 ruling, Judge Julia Spain rejected Musk’s argument that Hotha’s suit “was baseless and should be thrown out as an attempt to silence the billionaire’s free speech,” Bloomberg News reported. 

Hothi, a Sikh American and a doctoral student in Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of Michigan had filed the lawsuit in Alameda County Superior Court in California alleging that Musk falsely accused him of actively harassing and “almost killing” Tesla employees. 

Calling it a “significant development,” Hothi’s lawyer, Gill Sperlein told American Kahan that Spain ruled that Musk’s statements about Hothi were not protected under California’s Anti-SLAPP statute. The statute allows a defendant to file a special motion to strike a complaint filed against him/her based on the right of petition or free speech. Sperlein said he was confident that they would survive Musk’s claims, adding that “there’s no doubt” that his client will win the case.

If defendants appeal, which Sperlein thinks they will, “the case essentially stays on hold,” he said. “That could be a lengthy process.”

Hothi filed the lawsuit in August 2020 in regard to an email Musk sent to Aaron Greenspan, the founder of law transparency site PlainSite. In response to questions from Greenspan about Musk’s history of speaking out against Tesla critics and whistleblowers, Musk had mentioned Hothi by name. Greenspan then posted screenshots of the messages to Twitter.

Hothi’s tussle with Tesla began in 2018 when he took pictures of a tent being erected at Tesla’s Fremont, California, facility. After posting the photos on Twitter, Hothi claimed in the suit that Musk and Tesla investigated Hothi and took down his license plate number. In February 2019, Hothi visited Tesla’s sales center at its Fremont facility. According to Hothi’s suit, it was an “attempt to gather information about Model 3 production.” He claims Tesla recognized his license plate and sent a security guard to confront him. 

Two months later, Hothi says he photographed a Tesla test vehicle with roof-mounted cameras used for capturing video and audio for the company’s autopilot feature. Tesla employees inside the car recorded Hothi’s plates and informed Musk. 

The incidents led Tesla to file a temporary restraining order against Hothi in April 2019, which claimed that Hothi had hit the security guard with his car at Tesla’s Fremont factory and had endangered those driving the Tesla car by “swerving dangerously close to the vehicle.”

Sperlein said Tesla eventually dropped the harassment case against Hothi after the judge assigned to the case ordered the car manufacturer to produce video evidence documenting Hothi’s reckless driving. 

In his lawsuit, Hothi claims that Tesla’s restraining order against him has led to harassment accusing him of being “a liar, a murderer, a terrorist, and a deranged maniac.” He also claimed that he has and will suffer a loss of wages and business opportunities as a result of Musk’s statements. Hothi is seeking unspecified damages. 

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“Our case is very limited in what we are alleging and the impact it would have on Randep,” Sperlein said. “All we are saying is Elon was lying and making up stories about what Randeep did. We are just clearing Randeep’s good name.”

In a Jan. 22, 2020 article on Hothi, Bloomberg said he was born in Punjab and grew up in Fremont, “not far from the Tesla factory.” The report described him as “a voracious reader and devout Sikh,” who “was obsessed with philosophy in high school but had trouble focusing.”After attending a local community college and excelling there, Hothi transferred to the University of California at Berkeley, where he graduated with a bachelor’s in philosophy in 2009.

In his University of Michigan profile, Hothi says he is “interested in how minority communities—specifically diasporic Sikhs — creatively respond to the world around them.” Noting that “Sikhs in the West are undergoing something of a renaissance” in art, literature, media, and politics, he said “Sikhs also face a host of acute challenges – xenophobia, the memory of state-sponsored violence in India, and the articulation of Sikhism. This presents an opportunity to examine how a globally dispersed community responds to the challenges of cross-cultural encounter while also developing their own Sikh institutions.” Hothi said that his interest in Sikh Studies “is inspired by a real need to contribute knowledge to Sikh communities while also contributing to academic debates in the humanities and social scientists.”

Bhargavi Kulkarni has been a journalist for nearly two decades. She has a degree in English literature and French. She is also an adventure sport enthusiast, and in her free time, she likes to cook, bake, bike and hike.

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The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, viewpoints and editorial policies of American Kahani.
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