Nick Denton has lost another round to Hulk Hogan.
The Gawker Media founder sought bankruptcy court protection Monday in New York, after a Florida judge refused to halt enforcement of a $140 million damages award in pro wrestler Hogan’s invasion-of-privacy lawsuit.
Gawker itself filed for bankruptcy June 10, a move that temporarily put the brakes on Hogan’s efforts to collect on the verdict he won after the online media company posted excerpts of a sex-tape featuring him. Denton was also a defendant in the suit and liable for the damages award.
Denton filed an emergency motion seeking to stay enforcement of the verdict against him pending appeal, but the judge in the Florida case on July 29 refused. Denton has said that allowing Hogan to collect the crippling verdict while the case is on appeal is a threat to the freedom of the press.
The Chapter 11 petition filed Monday in Manhattan federal court listed assets of $10 million to $50 million and liabilities of more than $100 million, including Hogan’s claim and other pending lawsuits.
Denton’s bankruptcy filing may be seen as a victory for Peter Thiel, the PayPal co-founder who bankrolled Hogan’s lawsuit.
According to Gawker, Thiel has had it in for the company since 2007, when it outed him as gay. Thiel, who sits on the board of Facebook, has since publicly acknowledged that he’s gay and called Gawker’s now-defunct blog Valleywag the “Silicon Valley equivalent of al-Qaida.”
In a May New York Times interview, Thiel described his backing of Hogan and other litigants as a philanthropic way to help those who can’t afford to defend themselves against press attacks and intrusions.
Thiel didn’t immediately respond to an email requesting comment on Denton’s filing.
For now, Hogan is unable to collect from Gawker because his claims are halted during bankruptcy. Denton would enjoy the same protection while he’s in bankruptcy. That gives the company time to challenge the sex-tape verdict. If Gawker loses on appeal, sale proceeds would go to creditors — including Hogan, whose real name is Terry Bollea.
“The time has come for Nick Denton to accept responsibility for the decisions he made and the rewards he reaped based on the suffering and humiliation of others,” David Houston, a lawyer for Hogan, said in a statement. “His bankruptcy has nothing to do with who paid Mr. Bollea’s legal bills, and everything to do with Denton’s own choices and accountability. If even one person has been spared the humiliation that Mr. Bollea suffered, this is a victory.”
Meanwhile, Denton is helping the company prepare for an auction this month. Ziff Davis has agreed to make a lead bid of $90 million and keep Denton on. Denton has testified that 15 parties have signed nondisclosure agreements — a sign of serious interest — since the Ziff Davis offer was announced and that he expects active bidding.
Oxford University-educated Denton started Gawker with a single blog out of his New York apartment in 2002. In addition to its flagship news and gossip site, the company also has sites devoted to cars, sports, technology and feminism.
“Gawker Media Group’s resilient brands and people will thrive under new ownership, when the sale closes in the next few weeks,” Denton posted Monday on Twitter. “On this bitter day for me, I am consoled by the fact that my colleagues will soon be freed from this tech billionaire’s vendetta,” he added, without mentioning Thiel by name.