Tesla and Elon Musk, jointly named as Defendants with Omar Qazi of the former @tesla_truth Twitter account, have filed a Motion to Dismiss an ongoing lawsuit brought by Plainsite.com owner Aaron Greenspan.
Greenspan, a Tesla short seller often associated with the online “$TSLAQ” community, is seeking an injunction and damages from alleged libelous activity by both Qazi and Musk. He also claims fraudulent communications by Musk and Tesla executives have lead to inflated company stock prices, thereby injuring his financial portfolio via stock purchases made and sold based on those communications. Tesla’s and Musk’s motion for dismissal was made as a separate action from the allegations against Qazi.
The Complaint, initially filed May 20, 2020, and later amended on July 2, 2020, is being litigated in the US Northern District of California, San Francisco Division under docket number 3:20-cv-03426-JD. The Motion to Dismiss was filed on July 31, 2020.
“Plaintiff’s allegations against the Tesla Defendants are not new. Plaintiff has been making the
same unsubstantiated and incendiary accusations—on Twitter, in purported online exposés, and in public and private communications—for years. What is new is Plaintiff’s attempt to transform his conspiracy theories, baseless suspicions, and Internet “research” into a federal lawsuit,” Tesla’s Motion argues against Greenspan’s claims. “Also new is Plaintiff’s apparent view that people should not use hyperbolic language or return his insults on the Internet, and Plaintiff’s claim that Mr. Musk’s dismissive commentary to and about him somehow damaged his reputation.”
The Complaint partly seeks to hold Musk liable for several statements made by Qazi during publicly-aired disagreements with Greenspan, characterizing the CEO’s positive replies to some of Qazi’s online posts as part of a “tag team” effort to discredit him. However, Tesla argues that liability would require a formal agent-type relationship between Qazi and Musk to hold legal weight. “While the [First Amended Complaint] speculates about ties between Mr. Qazi and Mr. Musk, Plaintiff tacitly admits he is not aware of such a relationship, other than alleged interactions on Twitter and in the media,” the Motion argues. Greenspan also cites Qazi’s attendance at a private Tesla event as evidence of an implied connection or common purpose with Musk.
Regarding any defamation claims, substantiated by Greenspan using email replies from Musk as well as Twitter comments in reply to a published article wherein derogatory remarks were made about Greenspan, Tesla’s Motion argues such comments are constitutionally protected opinions. Of particular note in the Complaint’s allegations is a supportive email to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey sent by Musk purportedly in support of restoring Qazi’s suspended accounts.
“Jack, what Omar is saying is accurate to the best of my knowledge. There has been an
orchestrated and sophisticated attempt to drive down Tesla stock through social media,
particularly Twitter,” Musk wrote.” This always increases around our earnings call, which is this
afternoon. Aaron Greenspan in particular has major issues. He’s the same nut but that claimed he was the founder of Facebook and sued Zuckerberg, among many other things. Never seen anything like it.”
In reference to this cited correspondence, Tesla argues, “As with his other statements, Mr. Musk’s reference to Plaintiff as a “nut but” with “major issues” is nonactionable opinion.”
Most of the all-electric carmaker’s reply in the Motion, though, was focused on a legal defense against the most prevalent claims the Tesla short seller community is most vocal about: The company’s stock prices are artificially inflated due to fraudulent communication regarding their activities.
“As numerous courts have recognized, however, short sellers like Plaintiff…[sell] short because he believes the price of a stock overestimates its true value…whereas the premise of the fraud-on-the-market presumption is that investors rely on the market to reflect a stock’s true value,” Tesla states in their dismissal petition. “Plaintiff does not and could not claim that he relied on any alleged false statements because he believed that Tesla was engaged in fraud during the entire time he was betting against the Tesla stock… Even if Plaintiff could invoke the fraud-on-the market presumption, it would be conclusively rebutted because the Plaintiff plainly…would have bought or sold the stock even had he been aware that the stock’s price was tainted by fraud.”
Ultimately, Greenspan is seeking a declaratory judgment holding Qazi in contempt of court, a permanent injunction preventing further libelous statements against Greenspan in any published medium (written or oral), damages from Defendants’ alleged fraudulent actions to be assessed at time of trial, statutory damages from copyright infringements (over personal photos used as described in the suit), and punitive damages for alleged law breaking. Tesla and Musk, for their part, are seeking to have the case dismissed permanently, i.e., “with prejudice.”
For the average Tesla fan, owner, or stock holder, lawsuits may seem like something to avoid at (nearly) all costs, but Musk does not give the impression he has the same hesitation. The eccentric CEO makes his opinion of short sellers like Greenspan known quite often, and he has even humorously merchandised his ongoing battle by selling bright red “Short Shorts” donning the Tesla logo on the company web store.
With Tesla stocks recently haven risen to a high of $1643 per share, the tensions between the camps will perhaps only continue to rise.