LOS ANGELES – Michael Flatley has won a court ruling that allows him to sue a woman who claimed he had raped her.
The state Supreme Court ruled Thursday that Flatley's $100 million extortion and defamation lawsuit against Tyna Marie Robertson can proceed to trial.
The lawsuit was triggered by a January 2003 letter Flatley received from the woman's attorney alleging the dancer had raped her in a Las Vegas hotel in 2002.
In the letter and on subsequent phone calls, Robertson's attorney, D. Dean Mauro, threatened to file a sexual assault lawsuit unless Flatley agreed to a "seven figures" settlement, according to court papers.
Police declined to press criminal charges and Flatley said the sex was consensual.
Robertson then filed a $33 million civil sexual assault lawsuit in Illinois, but it was later dismissed. Flatley countered with a lawsuit claiming extortion, fraud and defamation.
Lawyers for Robertson and Mauro argued that the lawsuit brought by Flatley should be thrown out because the letter was a settlement offer and was protected under the First Amendment.
The state Supreme Court rejected the argument.
"Mauro's communications constituted criminal extortion as a matter of law and, as such, were unprotected by constitutional guarantees of free speech or petition," the six-member panel wrote.
An after-hours call to Mauro's lawyer, James Holmes, was not immediately returned.
Flatley's Los Angeles-based attorney, Bert Fields, said the decision will help celebrities who are sometimes the target of false allegations.
"Celebrities are so frequently targeted with claims that they've committed some kind of misconduct, usually of a sexual nature," Fields said. "Because of the (state) Supreme Court ruling, we can make these people go to trial and prove our case."