|Genesis Davila at press conference regarding lawsuit filed on behalf for having been dethroned of her Miss Florida title.|
The ugly turn at the Miss Florida USA pageant could mean a battle to show real damages for dethroned beauty queen Génesis Dávila.
Dávila filed a $15 million defamation suit against pageant organizers Monday. An accompanying motion for emergency temporary injunction seeks to bar her removal.
But first, she'll have to prove irreparable harm beyond monetary redress.
"That's where the rubber's going to meet the road on the injunction hearing," her attorney, Richard Wolfe of Wolfe Law in Miami, said. "Being a Miss Florida winner and Miss USA contestant is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the value of which cannot be measured in dollars."
Dávila sued pageant organizers Tel-Air Interests Inc., Grant Gravitt Jr. and IMG Universe L.P. She claimed they stripped her of the crown, then "embarked on a false, malicious and defamatory public-smearing campaign" to justify their actions in ousting her to cinch a business relationship with a pageant trainer, whose clients she defeated.
Her suit gained national attention within hours — a potential disadvantage in her court fight.
"An argument can be made that she lacks any real damages, in that the controversy ... will make her more of a household name than an uneventful pageantry win," said Stroock & Stroock & Lavan partner James Sammataro, who is not involved in the litigation. "Ariadna Gutiérrez, Miss Colombia and Miss Universe, until the crown was awkwardly removed from her head on live national television, and Vanessa Williams, who was forced to resign her Miss America title due to a photoshoot in 'Penthouse', would arguably be the first to admit that getting publicly defrocked propelled their marketability."
Dávila paid $1,350 to compete in the Miss Florida USA pageant after winning the Miss Miami Beach contest.
Miss Florida USA organizers have not responded to the suit, but Gravitt, the event's director, fired back on social media with posts suggesting Dávila flouted contest rules requiring participants to fix their own hair and makeup. He shared Dávila's social media photos, purportedly showing her with professional beauticians on pageant day.
Wolfe said Gravitt altered the photos, cropping out a date stamp that shows Dávila posted them days earlier.
An affidavit by immigration attorney Mayra Joli depicts Gravitt as a man intent on strong-arming Dávila out of the crown. It claims Gravitt first insisted Puerto Rican-born Dávila was disqualified for lack of U.S. citizenship, then ambushed her with a surprise news conference where she was supposed to resign or face cheating allegations.
Dávila included among her exhibits a letter to pageant organizers, written after Gravitt's purported threats. The letter outlines her personal battle with chronic depression and anxiety.
Dávila stated in the letter that she'd hoped to inspire a public conversation about mental illness and shape philanthropic efforts.
"It's an interesting issue. How can a person be a competitive beauty queen when living with depression and anxiety?" asked Matthew Dietz, litigation director of Disability Independence Group Inc. in Miami. "Part of the role of a beauty queen, unfortunately, is also to present an image, a mask of happiness that fits with the perception."
But the letter could bolster Dávila's case if it builds sympathy and fortifies her claims of being unfairly targeted.
"Absent proof of special animus, the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim fails to resonate," Sammataro said.
Source: Daily Business Review, 8/2/2016
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