An adult film star, a celebrity blogger, a theater owner and claims of blackmail and extortion – it may sound like the start of a script for a Hollywood thriller, but it’s the basis of a recent Illinois appellate court ruling.

In an unpublished order filed March 12, a panel of the Second District Appellate Court affirmed DuPage County Circuit Judge Bonnie Wheaton's decision to dismiss a defamation complaint and reject a request for sanctions in a case stemming from a porn star's no-show at a suburban film screening.

Justice Kathryn Zenoff delivered the ruling, with presiding Justices Michael Burke and Mary Seminara-Schostok concurring.

Ted Bulthaup III, a DuPage County theater owner, and two of his independent theaters filed the suit against Naperville attorney Paul Nordini, who represented adult film star Jenna Jameson.

The plaintiffs contracted with Jameson to show up at the screening of one of her films.

Jameson skipped the screening, telling the plaintiffs she was sick. However, Bulthaup and the theaters claim they later learned that Jameson was actually attending a birthday party for celebrity blogger Perez Hilton.

The plaintiffs eventually filed a suit alleging breach of contract against Jameson.

Several articles appeared in local newspapers following the filing of the suit in which Jameson's attorney claimed the plaintiffs were attempting to extort $50,000 from her through the litigation.

Rescheduling Jameson's appearance was discussed but eventually abandoned, allegedly because of Jameson's rejection of the terms, according to an email exchange between one of the plaintiffs' attorneys and a representative of Jameson.

The plaintiffs then sued Nordini, Jameson's attorney, claiming defamation per se and defamation per quod for his remarks in the newspapers.

Nordini filed a motion to dismiss the amended complaint, arguing that the statements in question were directed at the plaintiffs' attorneys and not the plaintiffs themselves. His motion also sought sanctions against the plaintiffs under Supreme Court Rule 137.

The lower court agreed with Nordini on his motion to dismiss the complaint, but rejected his sanctions request, spurring both sides to file appeals over the ruling.

Wheaton, the trial judge, applied the innocent-construction rule in dismissing the complaint, saying  a reasonable person would have assumed the defamatory statements at the crux of the suit were referring to the plaintiffs' attorneys and not the plaintiffs.

Additionally, the judge determined that Bulthaup, the theater owner, did not have standing to bring the suit because no reasonable person in his position would have thought the defendant's comments in the press were directed at him.

In its recent order, the appeals panel agreed with the lower court's reasoning.

"Although such terms as blackmail and extortion, standing alone, could conjure up an impression of illegal activity, when made under the circumstances as alleged they could not be reasonably interpreted as assertions that plaintiffs had in fact engaged in such criminal conduct," Zenoff wrote for the panel.

She added, "Nor did they otherwise disparage plaintiffs’ business reputation to a degree that would have affected the community’s perception of plaintiffs."

The panel also agreed with Wheaton's dismissal of Nordini's request for sanctions.

"Defendant’s argument here, regarding Rule 137 sanctions, contains no reasoned argument and is not clearly defined. Nor does it have a single citation of authority," Zenoff wrote. "It essentially amounts to a contention thrown in at the tail end of his brief."

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