In the latest twist to the Lance Armstrong doping saga, Rob Stutzman and Jonathan Wheeler, two men from Sacramento, Calif., have filed a class action against the cyclist and his publishers. According to CNN, the suit accuses Armstrong of “fraud and false advertising” in relation to his books It’s Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life and Every Second Counts. The former is a 2001 best seller about Armstrong’s three-year path from testicular-cancer patient to Tour de France victor, and the latter is a 2003 follow-up about what came next, including doping accusations. Throughout the two books, he denies doping — and in great detail.
In Every Second Counts, Armstrong writes:
Our team had “zero tolerance” for any form of doping … It sounded like the usual clichéd statement, but we meant it. We were absolutely innocent.
Now, of course, Armstrong has told Oprah Winfrey and the world that he lied. And Stutzman and Wheeler, who bought Armstrong’s books thinking they were inspirational works of nonfiction, want their money back — and more (they’re asking for “refunds and other costs,” according to USA Today) — because, according to the suit, they might not have purchased the books if they knew Armstrong’s stories were fiction.
So do the Californians stand a chance of winning? It’s hard to guess, based on past high-profile cases that targeted memoirs.
A similar lawsuit made headlines in 2006 when James Frey, the author who fictionalized his addiction-recovery memoir A Million Little Pieces, was sued along with his publisher by readers in a few states. That case, however, provides little insight into what a judge might decide in the Armstrong affair: it was settled in an agreement by which the publisher would refund court fees, donate to charity and offer a refund to anyone who bought the book before news broke that the memoir was not entirely true, reported the New York Times.
Frey, however, did not have to admit that he did anything wrong. (And apparently not every reader felt defrauded: according to the Smoking Gun, 4 million people bought the book and only 1,345 asked for their money back as of about a year after the settlement was reached.) Another lawsuit over a fictionalized book, Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea, was dismissed last year.