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Bingo! Judges dismiss 'Bruno' lawsuit

He may have played "the biggest Austrian celebrity since Hitler," but Sacha Baron Cohen is protected by the First Amendment.
/ Source: E!online

He may have played "the biggest Austrian celebrity since Hitler," but Sacha Baron Cohen is protected by the U.S. First Amendment.

That's the word from a California Appeals Court, which refused to overturn a lower-court decision dismissing a lawsuit brought by Richelle Olson and her husband against the funnyman and NBC Universal over his 2009 comedy "Bruno."

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Guess she got schtupped.

Olson initially sued Cohen accusing him of assault and battery during the filming of "Bruno," in which Cohen turned up in character at a 2007 charity bingo game in Palmdale, Calif.

During the scene, which failed to make the film's final cut, Bruno calls out numbers while making not-so-subtle allusions to his former male partner, an obvious attempt to get a rise out of his audience.

However, soon after Universal presented the court with unedited footage of the incident, Olson's attorneys amended the lawsuit to allege "emotional distress." In it, Olson claimed her confrontation with the prankster—she essentially ran him off the stage—prompted her to lose consciousness, fall to the floor and hit her head, during which she suffered "two brain bleeds."

A lower court, however, ruled in favor of Universal's argument that the Olsons brought a frivolous complaint. Cohen's antics, the court asserted, satirized the bingo players' views on homosexuality and gay culture and thus were constitutionally protected speech.

The appellate panel agreed, noting the "hot button issues" were an area of public interest.

"Cohen's verbal exchange with Richelle Olson on stage aided in Cohen's effort to obtain a reaction from Richelle Olson captured on video for subsequent use in the film," wrote the judges. "As such it is an indistinguishable part of the constitutionally protected expressive conduct of making the movie."

The fact that Olson signed a standard consent form probably didn't help her case either.

Universal declined to comment on Monday's ruling, though its lawyers have stated in legal documents that the studio plans to go after Olson to recover its attorneys fees and penalize her for bringing the suit.