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La Liberte v. Reid

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  1. Libel and Privacy

Amicus brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 21 media organizations

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

Date Filed: Feb. 19, 2019

Update: On July 15, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its opinion in La Liberte v. Reid, holding that the California anti-SLAPP statute is inapplicable in federal court and vacating the dismissal of the defamation claim against Joy Reid. On Aug. 7, attorneys for the Reporters Committee and Wachtel Missry LLP petitioned the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit for a rehearing before the entire appeals court bench, arguing in part that the court’s ruling conflicts with other appeals court decisions and precedent set by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Background: In 2018, Roslyn La Liberte filed a defamation lawsuit against MSNBC host Joy Reid after the journalist shared comments and photos on her social media accounts that showed La Liberte interacting with a teenager during a city council meeting about immigration legislation.

Reid moved to have the lawsuit dismissed under both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the “motion-to-strike” provision of California’s anti-SLAPP law, which allows for quick dismissal of meritless litigation against protected speech. In September 2019, the U.S. Court for the Eastern District of the New York sided with Reid, determining that La Liberte had failed to make a plausible claim of defamation. The court also awarded Reid her attorney’s fees, as permitted by the California anti-SLAPP law.

La Liberte appealed the trial court’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, arguing, among other things, that the motion-to-strike and fee-shifting provisions in California’s anti-SLAPP law do not apply in federal court.

Our position: The appeals court should uphold the ruling of the trial court that Reid is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees under the California anti-SLAPP statute.

  • The fee-shifting provision of California’s anti-SLAPP law applies in federal court.
  • The court does not need to decide whether the state’s anti-SLAPP motion-to-strike provision applies in federal court; the fee-shifting provision applies regardless of whether the motion-to-strike provision does.
  • If the court does decide whether the motion-to-strike provision applies in federal court, it should hold that it does.

Quote: “Even when the plaintiffs have little hope of winning on the merits, SLAPPs draw their targets into vexingly time-consuming and costly litigation, thereby deterring valuable speech on matters of public concern. Would-be speakers are forced into a perverse cost-benefit analysis, weighing the value of participating in the public square against the burden of defending against a lawsuit.”

Related: A recent defamation case in Florida — Parekh v. CBS — presents a similar question of whether that state’s anti-SLAPP fee-shifting provision should be recognized in federal court. A friend-of-the-court brief filed by Reporters Committee attorneys and a coalition of media organizations urges the appeals court to uphold a previous ruling that news station CBS2 is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees.

The Reporters Committee consistently monitors the state of anti-SLAPP policies 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.

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