A class-action lawsuit claiming damages against Greg Mortenson over "Three Cups of Tea" was rejected Wednesday by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The federal appeals court judges upheld a lower court's decision to dismiss the case.
The plaintiffs were hoping to bring a class-action case against Mortenson, his nonprofit Central Asia Institute and publisher Penguin over Mortenson's memoirs "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools." They alleged the books misrepresented the truth, and that readers who had bought them had been defrauded.
The suit arose after key elements of Mortenson's stories of his travels in the mountains of Afghanistan and Pakistan and his mission to build schools there, as recounted in "Three Cups of Tea" and "Stones Into Schools," were thrown into doubt by author Jon Krakuer in a 2011 investigative report, "Three Cups of Deceit."
Krakauer talked to witnesses who contradicted parts of Mortenson's story; and Krakauer, an outdoorsman and bestselling author himself ("Into Thin Air," "Into the Wild") claimed that some remote schools Mortenson founded were underequipped, incomplete and unattended. He also called into question the resources the Central Asia Institute dedicated to supporting Mortenson's travel and promotion of his book.
While Mortenson responded in part to those claims, an investigation was sparked by the report. In 2012, Mortenson settled, agreeing to pay back the Central Asia Institute $1 million of his own money as compensation for using charitable funds to promote and buy his books.
That aside, the plaintiffs hoped to bring a class-action lawsuit regarding the contents of the books themselves. "People now realize they were deceived: They bought books and gave money based on false pretenses," a lawyer in the case told CNN.
But were they? Can someone who buys a memoir expect a refund if the memoir turns out to be not fact but a subjective, personal recollection of events?
They cannot -- at least, not via this particular lawsuit, said the 9th Circuit. As they put it, "Because of the defects in the RICO and common-law fraud, deceit, and contract claims, the district court was also correct to dismiss plaintiffs’ claims for unjust enrichment, injunctive relief, an accounting, class status, punitive damages, and damages against Penguin on a theory of principal liability."
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