Judge narrows Tesla’s case against a former employee, dismissing the defamation counter-suit

Written by Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal judge has narrowed the scope of a lawsuit brought by Tesla Corporation against a former employee it accused of hacking computers and leaking proprietary data to a reporter. The judge also dismissed a counter-defamation lawsuit from the former employee.

In a ruling released Thursday, Chief Justice of the Federal Court of Renault, Miranda Doe, Nevada, said Tesla had failed to show that Martin Tripp’s disclosure of classified information caused a $ 167 million drop in the electric vehicle maker’s market value.

But she declined to dismiss some of Tesla’s other claims, including that Tripp’s alleged unauthorized use of data may have violated the Nevada Computer Crime Act, and that his behavior justifies punitive damages.

The defamation lawsuit stemmed from four statements made by Tesla CEO Elon Musk or Tesla’s communications staff, but Du said none of it was false and that Tripp could not show the actual malice.

Tripp worked as an operations technician at the Giga Tesla plant near Renault.

Tesla fired him on June 19, 2018, the day before the lawsuit was filed.

Tripp declined to comment on the decision on Friday. He represents himself in the case, according to court records.

Tesla did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

In its complaint, Tesla accused Tripp of writing software to hack its manufacturing operating system, sharing the stolen data with people outside the company, and making false claims to the media about the information it stole.

Du said Tripp confirmed it was the “whistleblower” that identified “production inefficiencies and delays in Tesla’s race to produce 5,000 Model 3 cars per week.”

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In contrast, Tesla believes Tripp reached incorrect conclusions about the effectiveness of the Giga plant assembly lines, the judge wrote.

The case is Tesla Inc v. Tripp, US District Court, Nevada County, Number 18-00296.

(Reporting co-reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York and Aishwarya Nair in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil de Silva and Chizu Numiyama)

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