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Martinez v. ZoomInfo Technologies, Inc.

Post categories

  1. Libel and Privacy

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

Date Filed: Feb. 8, 2024

Background: In 2021, Kim Carter Martinez sued ZoomInfo Technologies, a professional web directory service, claiming that the company violated California’s Right of Publicity statute when it used her name and likeness in its directory without her permission.

ZoomInfo moved to strike the complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which allows courts to quickly dismiss meritless lawsuits designed to chill speech. The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington denied ZoomInfo’s motion to strike.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to deny ZoomInfo’s motion to strike, although they did so on alternative grounds, concluding that the lawsuit fell under an exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute for suits “brought solely in the public interest.” In January 2024, however, the Ninth Circuit vacated the three-judge panel’s opinion and scheduled arguments to be re-heard by the full court.

Our Position: In a friend-of-the-court brief in support of neither party, the Reporters Committee and a coalition of 27 media organizations urge the appeals court to reaffirm its longstanding recognition that California citizens are entitled to the substantive protections of the anti-SLAPP law’s fee-shifting provisions in federal district court.

  • California’s anti-SLAPP law protects against meritless, retaliatory litigation that chills newsgathering and threatens press freedom.
  • The Ninth Circuit has repeatedly and correctly held that the substantive provisions of California’s anti-SLAPP law apply in federal court, and that fee-shifting provisions are substantive in nature.
  • If federal courts allowed SLAPP plaintiffs to evade the substantive provisions of California’s law, including the fee-shifting provision, plaintiffs would be incentivized to take their claims from state to federal court.

Attorneys at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP represented the media coalition in this friend-of-the-court brief.

Quote: “[T]he fee-shifting provision is the consequence of the California Legislature’s substantive policy decision to deter litigants from filing meritless SLAPPs designed to chill speech in connection with public issues. That protection is essential for members of the media, among others, because it protects their ability to report on matters of public importance without fearing the potentially devastating consequences of retaliatory litigation.”

Related: In 2021, the Reporters Committee published a blog post about the importance of state anti-SLAPP laws and why they should apply in federal court.

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