Court: New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division — First Department
Date Filed: April 1, 2022
Update: On May 19, 2022, the New York Appellate Division, First Department affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of Kurland’s complaint for failure to state a claim. However, the court held that the amendments to New York’s anti-SLAPP law do not apply retroactively. Accordingly, the court denied Glassdoor’s motion for fees and costs under the amended anti-SLAPP law.
Background: When a former employee of The Kurland Group, a New York-based law firm, wrote an anonymous negative review of the firm on Glassdoor, a job search website, Kurland contacted Glassdoor to remove the review. When Glassdoor refused, Kurland sued the company for defamation and other claims.
A New York trial court dismissed the defamation claim pursuant to New York’s amended anti-SLAPP law. New York, along with thirty other states and the District of Columbia, have adopted anti-SLAPP laws to quickly dismiss SLAPPs, which is short for strategic lawsuits against public participation. Powerful people and companies commonly use SLAPP lawsuits as a tool to silence criticism through expensive, baseless legal proceedings.
In November 2020, during the parties’ legal fight, the New York Legislature amended its anti-SLAPP law to expand protections for those who face meritless lawsuits in retaliation for constitutionally protected speech on issues of public interest. The amended law allows for journalists and other targets of SLAPP lawsuits to recover attorney’s fees and costs — known as “fee shifting” — as long as the court finds that the plaintiff’s claims were substantially baseless. Fee-shifting provisions can act as a deterrent against frivolous defamation lawsuits.
Despite dismissing the case and finding that Kurland’s claims were “absurd” and “unavailing,” the trial court denied attorney’s fees to Glassdoor. Glassdoor appealed the denial of fees to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division — First Department.
Our Position: The New York appeals court should hold that the amended anti-SLAPP law applies and the trial court erred in declining to grant Glassdoor’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs.
- The amended anti-SLAPP law defines “issue of public interest” in a broad, speech-protective manner that encompasses the speech at issue in this case.
- New York’s anti-SLAPP law mandates an award of attorneys’ fees and costs to prevailing defendants.
Quote: “[M]andatory fee-shifting is integral to an effective anti-SLAPP regime: it deters plaintiffs from bringing meritless speech-chilling lawsuits and protects defendants from bearing the costs of exercising the right to free speech. Moreover, strong anti-SLAPP protections, including mandatory fee-shifting provisions, are essential to protecting the news media’s ability to inform the public about wrongdoing and to shine a light on abuses of power.”
Related: Reporters Committee attorneys frequently advocate for strong anti-SLAPP statutes across the country to ensure the protection of free speech. To learn more about the importance of these laws and see what anti-SLAPP policies look like from state to state, visit our resource page.