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Hughes v. Capital City Press LLC

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  1. Libel and Privacy

Court: Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit

Date Filed: March 22, 2021

Background: In June 2020, Louisiana Supreme Court Justice Jeff Hughes sued The Advocate for defamation after it published an opinion article accusing him of failing to recuse himself from a custody case two decades ago when he was a judge serving in Livingston Parish. The daily newspaper’s editorial board wrote that Hughes had been romantically involved with one of the lawyers on the case.

The Advocate filed a special motion to strike pursuant to Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP law, arguing that Justice Hughes had failed to show any actual damages. A trial court disagreed, finding in an oral order that Justice Hughes did not have to prove damages at the motion to strike phase. The Advocate then appealed to the Louisiana Court of Appeal, First Circuit.

Our Position: The Louisiana Court of Appeal should reverse the trial court’s denial of The Advocate’s special motion to strike pursuant to Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP law.

  • Powerful plaintiffs use strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, to chill protected First Amendment speech, and anti-SLAPP laws provide meaningful protection from such suits.
  • Damages are an essential component of a court’s anti-SLAPP analysis in Louisiana and around the country.
  • Damages are an essential element of a defamation claim under established law.

The Tulane First Amendment Law Clinic represented the Reporters Committee in this friend-of-the-court brief.

Quote: “This Court should reverse the lower court’s order because its finding that Justice Hughes was not required to make a showing of damages at the anti-SLAPP phase of litigation is squarely at odds with Louisiana law. In order to survive a special motion to strike under Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP statute, plaintiffs must introduce evidence establishing a probability of prevailing on the merits of their claim. An essential element for establishing a cause of action for defamation under Louisiana law is actual damages.”

Related: The Reporters Committee monitors the state of anti-SLAPP laws and related court cases across the country. To learn more about our work in this area and see what SLAPP protections look like in your state, check out our Anti-SLAPP Legal Guide.