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Parekh v. CBS

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  1. Libel and Privacy

Amicus Brief filed by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and 33 media organizations

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

Date Filed: Feb. 3, 2020

Update: On June 19, 2020, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the plaintiff’s case and awarded fees under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute.

On March 23, 2020, the Eleventh Circuit denied the Reporters Committee’s motion for leave to file its friend-of-the-court brief in this case, citing Rule 29(a)(2), which states that “[A] court of appeals may prohibit the filing of or may strike an amicus brief that would result in a judge’s disqualification.”

Background: In 2017, CBS2 reported about allegations that a local woman had raised more than $50,000 in donations by faking a cancer diagnosis.  As part of the story, CBS2 quoted Niklesh Parekh, the woman’s former boyfriend.

When the story ran, Parekh disputed some aspects of the station’s reporting, and he ultimately filed a defamation suit against CBS and reporter Brian Conybeare in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida.

The district court dismissed the case under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court also granted CBS’ motion to recover attorneys’ fees under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute, which allows for quick dismissal of frivolous lawsuits filed in response to First Amendment activity and mandates the award of fees to a prevailing movant.

Parekh appealed the ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit. Among other issues, the appeal raises the issue of whether the fee-shifting provision of Florida’s anti-SLAPP law applies in federal court.

Our position: The appeals court should uphold the district court’s ruling that CBS and Conybeare are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees under the Florida anti-SLAPP statute.

  • The Florida anti-SLAPP statute’s fee-shifting provision is a substantive state law that applies when federal courts exercise diversity jurisdiction.
  • The Florida anti-SLAPP statute’s fee-shifting provision does not conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
  • Applying state anti-SLAPP fee-shifting provisions uniformly in state and federal court will protect valuable speech and prevent “forum shopping,” in which litigants try to have their cases heard in a court they think will provide the most favorable ruling.

Quote: “[I]f this Court holds that the state-law fee-shifting provision does not apply in federal court, Florida SLAPP plaintiffs will simply file their meritless lawsuits in this circuit’s federal trial courts, and chill constitutionally protected speech.”

Related: Reporters Committee staff members are frequently involved in litigation and policy advocacy regarding anti-SLAPP statutes across the country. 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.