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Texas court orders YouTuber to pay for defamation

Editor's note: This story was updated August 18 to correct information about the defendant's attendance at the August 16 hearing. AOPA regrets the error.

A Texas court concluded that online allegations made by Dan Gryder against a Texas pilot and airport owner were false and imposed a $1 million judgement against him August 16. Charles Cook sued Gryder in 2021 alleging a campaign of harassment and slander.

A portion of a text message that Dan Gryder sent to Charles Cook, the owner of Flying Oaks Airport in Fort Worth, Texas (pictured). Cook sued Gryder for defamation. Images via Google Earth and court records.

Gryder, who gained notoriety (if not critical acclaim) online for near-instant analysis of aircraft accidents on his YouTube channel, never directly addressed the accusations of defamation that went far beyond aviation. While court records (prepared in advance for the judge to sign) show Gryder appeared at a hearing on damages August 16, representing himself before Judge John P. Chupp of the 141st District Court in Tarrant County, Texas, Gryder did not attend the hearing, according to YouTube personality Dan Millican of Taking Off, who has investigated the matter and attended several hearings. Millican reported that he was present in the courtroom August 16, and Gryder was not. Chupp ordered Gryder to pay Cook a total of $1,081,667, plus interest that will accrue at 5 percent annually "until all amounts are paid in full," according to court records.

It was the latest in a series of hearings held during the two years after Gryder, of Georgia, posted the first of three videos casting aspersions on Cook's Texas airport, implying that illegal activity was rampant there, in August 2021. According to court documents, Gryder would go on to publicly accuse Cook of having an extramarital affair, lying about his health to the FAA, and having knowingly sold a defective airplane that was later involved in an accident, all claims that Cook denied in detail in his lawsuit accusing Gryder of defamation.

Gryder was represented by counsel for several months in 2022. His lawyers moved to set aside a default judgement that had been entered against Gryder for failing to answer Cook's complaint. His lawyers later sought to withdraw from the case, telling the judge that, pursuant to Texas law, continuing to represent Gryder "will result in an unreasonable financial burden on the Movant or has been rendered unreasonably difficult by Defendant, Daniel W. Gryder."

The judge approved that request within days, and, eight months later, Gryder was without counsel representing him in the courtroom on August 16.

Gryder, reached by phone August 17, declined to say whether he plans to appeal the ruling, and responded to an August 16 email:

"Per our recorded phone conversation where you called me this morning, I offer the following: While this initially appears to be a truly fantastic story relating to the fatal crash of N1472E, the truth will eventually come out. Since you would not verbally offer assurance via phone to reprint my written response to you verbatim, I reserve the opportunity to tell this complete story in my own way, and on my own schedule," Gryder wrote.  "While I appreciate AOPA's enthusiasm for this story in our call, I would ask that you allow your membership to view and form their own opinions at that time. I will also publish this response. Pilots are smart."

Gryder's YouTube channel, Probable Cause: Dan Gryder, remained active following the judgement, with 80 videos visible August 16. The three videos cited in Cook's November 2021 lawsuit were not among them.  

'Again, each comment is false'

Cook, a Boeing 777 captain and owner of Flying Oaks Airport in Fort Worth, Texas, filed the lawsuit two months after his attorneys sent Gryder a letter dated September 22, 2021, demanding the self-proclaimed accident investigator cease and desist making defamatory statements, and demanding that certain "statements and videos be removed immediately from all media platforms including YouTube." Cook's attorneys also demanded that Gryder "make a public statement admitting to each defamatory statement," to be approved by Cook and his lawyers.

According to the complaint, the first video at issue in the case was published by Gryder August 28, 2021, on the subject of an aircraft accident at Flying Oaks Airport. In the video, Gryder named Cook as the airport owner and claimed the airport is "rampant with cowboys," according to Cook's complaint. Gryder made vague accusations of extensive illegal activity and "complaints" to the FAA of alleged infractions that Cook argued in his lawsuit never existed.  Cook noted additional claims made by Gryder in that video that Cook asserted were false in the lawsuit.

In the YouTube-hosted user comments on that video, the lawsuit states, Gryder accused Cook of having an extramarital affair, and lying to the FAA on his medical certificate application. Those comments were followed by another, claiming three accidents at Cook's airport had happened "because of the lack of annuals and licensing." A copy of that comment, along with others captured in a screen image, was presented as plaintiff's evidence.

Gryder followed the August video in September with a second video in which he made additional statements about Cook and the airport, followed by a third on September 6, 2021, in which he named Cook in the title.

“I’ve got to talk about Charles Cook…apparently Mr. Cook is not very happy with me," Gryder said, according to the lawsuit. "Charles Cook man I did a deep dive on him, what a history on Charles Cook.  It’s fascinating…Charles Cook if you want to get your name in lights, we are about to do that…”

According to Cook's lawsuit, Gryder proceeded to claim that the aircraft involved in the accident that prompted the first video involving Cook and his airport had been left on the field by a man who had died. Gryder further claimed that Cook had knowingly sold a defective aircraft, and misrepresented it as suitable for training. The brief comments on the videos did not cite specific evidence of the claims of wrongdoing. Gryder's "deep dive" went on to include the claim that "Charles is a diabetic. He's got medical problems … All I can say is that the farther we go and the more stuff that Charles wants to stir up the happier it makes me."

Cook's attorneys stated in the lawsuit that Cook's medical conditions had all been reported accurately to his aviation medical examiner, as required, and that he was never diagnosed with diabetes.

Gryder also accused Cook of selling an aircraft with missing logbooks.

"Again, each comment is false," the lawsuit states. "The airplane was never abandoned at Flying Oaks Airport. The airplane was in flying condition and Cook purchased it from its owner, Francis," three years before the accident, and had refurbished it before giving it to the pilot involved in the accident, a friend of Cook's.

Cook's lawsuit, refuting Gryder's claims point-by-point, notes that Gryder sent Cook multiple text messages, "further harassing Cook and threatening that if Cook files a lawsuit against him, that Defendant intends to 'report play by play as [the lawsuit] happens,'" the complaint states, referencing one of the text messages presented as evidence by the plaintiff..

The complaint stated that Flying Oaks Airport "lost multiple tenants who rented hangars at the airport. Cook has been unable to fill these hangars with new tenants."

"Additionally," the lawsuit states, "Cook's reputation has been the subject of public ridicule, contempt, and hatred."

'Does not amount to extreme and outrageous conduct'

There was no obvious reference to Cook or Flying Oaks Airport, much less full coverage of the case, among the titles and descriptions of the 80 videos visible on Gryder's YouTube channel August 16. Before withdrawing, Gryder’s attorneys moved to set aside his default judgement and also to dismiss the case. Gryder’s argument for dismissal was based on libel law and the Texas Citizens Participation Act.

According to Gryder’s attorneys, "Defendant was utilizing his 'right of free speech' when he published these videos to his YouTube channel. The videos that he created relate to 'a matter of public concern,' specifically an issue related to the health and safety of the public. Defendant creates these videos to evaluate airplane crashes and to provide information on how they can be prevented in the future. This directly relates to the health and/or safety of the public at large and fits squarely within the definition of a matter of public concern."

Gryder’s attorneys further contended that the statements made in Gryder's videos do not amount to libel or slander, as defined by law. The seven-page motion to dismiss filed September 15 made no mention, however, of the text messages that Cook received from Gryder directly, or the written comments about Cook that Gryder posted on YouTube, under the videos in question, all of which were presented as evidence in the original complaint for a trial that never took place.

"Defendant's conduct in publishing the videos where he discusses the plane crash and how it could have been prevented does not amount to extreme and outrageous conduct," Gryder's attorneys wrote. "The purpose behind Defendant's YouTube channel is to provide information on why general aviation plane crashes occur and how to prevent these crashes in the future to save lives. Publication of these videos are not so outrageous in character, so extreme in degree, as to go beyond all possible bounds of decency, and to be regarded as atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community, conversely, Defendant provides this channel to inform the public of prevention measures to potentially prevent another plane crash."

Both attorneys had been released from their obligation to represent Gryder by the time the judge ruled in June that their motion for a new trial was denied, and the default judgement against Gryder remained in place pending the August 16 hearing.

Jim Moore

Jim Moore

Managing Editor-Digital Media
Digital Media Managing Editor Jim Moore joined AOPA in 2011 and is an instrument-rated private pilot, as well as a certificated remote pilot, who enjoys competition aerobatics and flying drones.
Topics: People

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