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Planet Aid, Inc. v. Reveal

Post categories

  1. Libel and Privacy

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

Date Filed: Nov. 3, 2021

Update: On Aug. 11, 2022, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in favor of Reveal. The court found, among other things, that Planet Aid is a limited purpose public figure and that a reasonable fact finder could not find, by clear and convincing evidence, that Reveal acted with actual malice in publishing the allegedly defamatory statements. 

Background: In 2016, Reveal (of the Center for Investigative Reporting) published a series of articles and broadcasts about Planet Aid’s links to an alleged cult and its apparent misuse of taxpayer funds in connection with agricultural programs in Africa. The publication led to calls for reform and the loss of funding to the nonprofit organization, which sued Reveal for defamation in Maryland.

Reveal succeeded in transferring the case to the Northern District Court of California, after which it filed a motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP law. Following nearly two years of discovery, the district court granted Reveal’s motion.

Planet Aid appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In its brief on appeal, Planet Aid suggests that California’s anti-SLAPP law should not apply in federal court.

Our Position: The Ninth Circuit should affirm the district court’s decision in favor of Reveal.

  • Excluding California’s anti-SLAPP law from federal court would deprive Californians of vital protections against claims arising out of the exercise of their First Amendment rights.
  • The panel is bound to follow the Ninth Circuit’s precedent holding that California’s anti-SLAPP statute applies in federal court.
  • Ninth Circuit precedent respects California’s substantive policy determinations insofar as it requires federal courts to apply the fee-shifting provision of the state’s anti-SLAPP law.

The Reporters Committee filed this friend-of-the-court brief in collaboration with the law firm Gibson, Dunn, and Crutcher.

Quote: “Today there is a proliferation of defamation suits against journalists and news organizations that make California’s substantive protections all the more necessary. Without them, California’s policy objectives would be frustrated, and core constitutional freedoms would be threatened.”

Related: Want to learn more about the anti-SLAPP law in your state? Check out the Reporters Committee’s Anti-SLAPP Legal Guide.

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