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Amin v. Winslow

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  1. Libel and Privacy

Court: U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

Date Filed: Jan. 20, 2023

Background: In September 2020, author Don Winslow published a Twitter post about Dr. Mahendra Amin, an OB/GYN contracted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to perform medical services for detainees at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia. Winslow posted the tweet after news outlets reported that  the Department of Homeland Security had launched an inquiry into a whistleblower complaint alleging that Amin was performing high rates of unnecessary surgeries and other invasive medical procedures at ICDC.

Amin sued Winslow for defamation. Winslow sought to dismiss the lawsuit under California’s anti-SLAPP law, arguing, among other things, that Amin is a public official and that he did not plead facts sufficient to show “actual malice.” Under the actual malice standard, established by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York Times v. Sullivan, public officials can prevail in a libel lawsuit only if they can prove that a statement they challenged was made “with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not.”

The district court, however, denied Winslow’s anti-SLAPP motion, finding, in part, that Amin was not a public official. In doing so, the court concluded that, as a government contractor whose work was subject to review by a government agency, Amin lacked “substantial responsibility for or control over the conduct of governmental affairs.”

Winslow appealed the district court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Our Position: The Ninth Circuit should reverse the district court’s holding as to Amin’s status as a plaintiff and find him to be a public official.

  • Amin, an OB/GYN who, working on behalf of the government, provided gynecological services to detainees in government custody, is a public official for purposes of defamation law.
  • Application of the actual malice standard in this case is essential to protect public criticism of powerful individuals and institutions.

Quote: “[A]s a matter of policy, holding that Dr. Amin is not a public official when he is carrying out government activity of significant public interest would effectively enable the government to circumvent Sullivan and contract away its accountability to the public. This would threaten the vitality of our public discourse by depriving speech about government actors of one of its most important protections.”

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