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Court Tosses ‘Bruno’ Suit by Woman Who Fainted and Suffered Brain Bleed After Bingo Scolding

Posted Sep 14, 2011 8:22 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A California appeals court has ruled for NBC Universal and actor Sacha Baron Cohen in a suit by a woman who fainted and suffered a brain bleed after a confrontation with the actor during the filming of Bruno.

The appeals court affirmed a trial court order tossing the suit and a finding that the incident was protected free speech, according to the Hollywood Reporter column Hollywood, Esq. "Cohen continues his streak of beating back the various lawsuits that have been tossed his way from victims of his trademark comedy," the story says.

The woman and her husband, Richelle and Lance Olson, had agreed to let the studio film scenes for a "documentary-style film" during an evening of charity bingo games, according to the unpublished appellate opinion. Sasha Baron Cohen played "Bruno,” a gay Austrian fashion reporter. As he called bingo numbers at the event, Bruno was able to draw a connection to his former partner (36 was his age, for example, and 42 was his chest size). According to the movie producer, the film placed Bruno into situations that would expose society’s homophobic nature.

Richelle Olson, executive director of the charity running the bingo game, confronted Cohen because she believed his language was vulgar and offensive. She approached the stage and told Cohen to stop. The footage shows Cohen objecting, and Olson summoning security to remove him. "I will not have anyone make a mockery of this bingo hall," Olson declares.

According to the complaint, Olson then went to a side room and began sobbing uncontrollably. She lost consciousness and struck her head, suffering two brain bleeds that forced her to use either a wheelchair or a walker.

The defendants filed a motion to strike the suit under the state’s anti-SLAPP law. The lower court granted the motion and the appeals court affirmed. The verbal exchange at the bingo hall “is an indistinguishable part of the constitutionally protected expressive conduct of making the movie,” the appeals court said.

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