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Court dismisses suit against 'Three Cups of Tea' author

April 30, 2012|By Kim Murphy
(Viking )

A lawsuit seeking to hold philanthropist Greg Mortenson responsible for purported untruths in his celebrated books, “Three Cups of Tea” and “Stones into Schools,” was thrown out by a federal  judge in Montana, who said it failed to make a case against the author and the Asian school-building charity he launched.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Sam E. Haddon in Great Falls rejected every claim presented by plaintiffs -- including two Montana legislators -- who said they were deceived when they shelled out $15 for Mortenson’s books assuming they were true, then learned that some of the heartwarming stories allegedly didn’t happen as described.

The case was potentially significant because it sought to hold publishers responsible for verifying the accuracy of all the facts their authors present as nonfiction, a formidable if not impossible task. But Judge Haddon said previous case law seemed in many instances to exempt publishers from such onerous obligations.

Likewise, he said, the plaintiffs in five separate versions of their suit failed to make an adequate case for fraud, deceit, breach of contract or racketeering.

“The imprecise, in part flimsy, and speculative nature of the claims and theories advanced underscore the necessary conclusion that further amendment would be futile,” he concluded.

Mortenson has said his books are overwhelmingly true, although some details may have been rearranged for clarity. Exposes by author Jon Krakauer and the CBS television news program "60 Minutes" raised questions about several details, including the number of schools built, how Mortenson came to build the first school and whether he was kidnapped by the Taliban.

Anne Beyersdorfer, who took over from Mortenson as executive director of the Central Asia Instititute, said the institute was “invigorated by the news,” and that Mortenson was on his way overseas, presumably to carry on the charity’s work of building schools for poor children in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

“Today's good news should not take away from the tremendous amount of work still to be done. Millions of children in the world remain out of school due to war, religious extremism, discrimination and poverty,” she said in a statement.

Over the last 15 years, the institute has helped build and maintain more than 180 schools and 30 vocational centers, she said, while providing support to an additional 56 schools, 20 literacy centers and 22 public health projects.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs could not immediately be reached for comment.

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