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$5 Million Defamation Award Against Former Miss USA Contestant

Kim Gomlak, MBA | Marketing Director

Former Miss Pennsylvania, Sheena Monnin, is paying a high price for going public with gossip she heard backstage at the 2012 Miss USA pageant. Following her quick departure from the preliminary round of the contest, Monnin claimed that she learned from fellow contestant, Miss Florida, Karina Brez, that the contest was scripted. Brez allegedly told Monnin that she had seen a notebook listing of the top five contestants before the preliminary round was conducted.

Monnin resigned her position as Miss Pennsylvania USA the day after the event and took to her Facebook page to voice her outrage. Miss USA’s parent company, Miss Universe L.P. (co-owned by Donald Trump), responded to the former beauty queen’s allegations by hand-delivering her a letter informing her of their intentions to assert claims against her for the false and defamatory statements. Monnin subsequently took to NBC’s Today Show to defend her statements, again repeating her allegations against the organization.


Monnin’s public appearance was met with a stinging response from Trump on ABC’s Good Morning America, who called Monnin’s allegations “disgraceful” and a clear result of her “loser’s remorse.” Miss Florida then turned her back on Monnin, appearing on E! Entertainment stating that she had clearly been joking about the pageant being scripted, noting that the eventual winner was not one of those she claimed had been on the list.


At arbitration, Miss Universe L.P. sought $10 million in damages. Monnin did not even attend the arbitration proceeding, publicly stating on YouTube that her attorney advised her she was not legally mandated to attend. Monnin further claimed that she never even received any notice alerting her that a date for arbitration had been set. However, her attorney did receive notice and unfortunately for Monnin, it is a widely accepted legal theory that notice delivered to an attorney constitutes notice on a client.


On December 10, 2012, the arbitrator, Magistrate Judge Theodore Katz, awarded Miss Universe L.P. $5 million after determining that the 2013 pageant lost a $5 million sponsorship deal with British Petroleum (BP) as a direct result of Monnin’s defamatory statements. On July 2, 2013, Judge J. Paul Oetken of the US District Court, Southern District of New York, confirmed the arbitration award, stating that while the Court did not “take lightly that Monnin is compelled to pay what is a devastating monetary award... sympathy, or apparent inequity, may play no role in a court's legal analysis.” Miss Universe L.P., LLLP v. Monnin, 2013 U.S. Dist. (S.D.N.Y. July 2, 2013).


Oetken blamed the “harsh result” against Monnin, largely on “her counsel’s ineptitude,” noting that not only did Monnin’s counsel refuse to participate in the arbitration proceedings, but he also refused to participate in any pre-hearing briefing or exchange. Following the ruling, Monnin changed her legal representation and is expected to appeal the decision.

VERDICT: $5,000,000
COURT: United States District Court, Southern District of New York


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