Tesla short-seller sues Elon Musk claiming defamation

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Tesla short-seller sues Elon Musk claiming defamation

  • An outspoken Tesla critic and short-seller, Randeep Hothi, is suing Elon Musk, alleging Musk defamed him when he said Hothi “actively harassed” and “almost killed Tesla employees.”
  • Musk made the comments in an email to Aaron Greenspan, the founder of law transparency site PlainSite, who then posted screenshots of the messages to Twitter. Hothi claims Musk should have realized the statements would be made public. 
  • The comments stemmed from an incident April 2019 in which Hothi visited Tesla’s Fremont factory and was confronted by a security guard. Tesla claimed in a restraining order it filed against Hothi that he clipped an employee with his car. 
  • Tesla eventually dropped the suit when it was unwilling to provide evidence that Hothi had been harassing its employees. 
  • Musk has openly voiced distaste for short-sellers like Hothi and has rallied against the practice for years, even going so far as to sell Tesla-branded short shorts on the company’s online store.
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An outspoken Tesla critic is suing Elon Musk after Musk said he “almost killed Tesla employees.”

Randeep Hothi, a graduate student at the University of Michigan and Tesla short seller who goes by @skabooshka on Twitter, filed suit against Musk earlier this month, claiming Musk had defamed him in an email and injured his reputation. 

The suit was filed in regard to an email Musk sent to Aaron Greenspan, who operates a law transparency site called PlainSite. In response to questions from Greenspan about Musk’s history of speaking out against Tesla critics and whistleblowers, Musk mentioned Hothi by name, saying he had “actively harassed” and “almost killed Tesla employees.”

“What was a sideswipe when Hothi hit one of our people could easily have been a death with 6 inches of difference,” Musk wrote, according to the suit. 

Screenshots of the exchange were posted on Twitter, which Hothi says led to an “onslaught” of harassment accusing him of being “a liar, a murderer, a terrorist, and a deranged maniac.” Hothi claims in the suit that Musk knew or should have known his statements would be made public. 

Hothi claims he has and will suffer a loss of wages and business opportunities as a result of Musk’s statements and is seeking unspecified damages. 

A spokesperson for Tesla did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for comment. 

The suit is the latest development in an ongoing battle between Hothi and Tesla, and part of Musk’s years-long war with short-sellers. Musk publicly despises short-sellers, investors who attempt to profit by betting on Tesla stock taking a dive in value. He has frequently railed against the practice, taunting those who engage in it with actual pairs of shorts, even going as far as to produce Tesla-branded, red, satin short shorts and selling them in Tesla’s online store. 

Tesla Fremont factory

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A yearslong clash

The issues between Hothi and Tesla appear to date back to at least 2018, when Hothi took pictures of a tent being erected at Tesla’s Fremont facility, which the company used for production of the Model 3. After posting the photos on Twitter, Hothi claims in the suit that Musk and Tesla investigated Hothi and took down his license plate number. 

In February 2019, Hothi visited Tesla’s sales center at its Fremont facility. According to Hothi’s suit, it was an “attempt to gather information about Model 3 production.” He claims Tesla recognized his license plate and sent a security guard to confront him. 

In a third incident two months later, Hothi says he photographed a Tesla vehicle with roof-mounted cameras used for capturing video and audio for the company’s autopilot feature. Tesla employees inside the car recorded Hothi’s plates and informed Musk.  

The incidents led Tesla to file a restraining order against Hothi, which claimed that Hothi had hit the security guard with his car at Tesla’s Fremont factory and had endangered those driving the Tesla car by “swerving dangerously close to the vehicle.” 

The suit also claimed that Hothi had trespassed on Tesla property multiple times. In 2018, an Arlo security camera was found mounted on a utility pole at Tesla’s Fremont plant, which the company discovered was registered to the name Skabooshka, Hothi’s Twitter handle. In early 2019, the company discovered another security camera and later observed someone driving a car registered to Hothi’s father coming to collect the camera, according to the suit. 

But Tesla dropped the suit last year after a judge ordered the company to provide evidence to back up its claims. Though the company said at the time that it had video and audio evidence that would prove its claims, providing it to the judge would have subjected Tesla employees to an invasion of their privacy.

Animosity between Hothi and Tesla appeared to die down until Hothi’s defamation suit was filed on August 4. And while the suit is the latest escalation in the clash between him and Tesla, it’s not Musk’s first time being accused of defamation.

In 2018, a British cave diver named Vernon Unsworth sued Musk over a tweet in which Musk called him a “pedo guy,” which Unsworth’s lawyers said was widely interpreted as an accusation of pedophilia. Unsworth, who aided in the rescue of a Thai soccer team trapped in a flooded cave, had criticized Musk’s offer of a “mini-sub” to assist with the rescue, calling it a “PR stunt” and telling Musk he could “stick his submarine where it hurts.”  A jury ruled last December that Musk was not guilty of defaming Unsworth.

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