Libel

This section covers the state law governing libel suits. The standards governing such suits are influenced by many things, including whether the subject of a story is a public figure or public official. This also covers the defenses to libel suits, including the "fair report" privilege, the opinion defense and anti-SLAPP laws.

Anti-SLAPP statutes face setbacks

Congress may again consider an anti-SLAPP bill, but Washington state loses its law
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Kimberly Chow

AP Photo/Susan Walsh

A federal court upheld the dismissal of a libel suit brought by Yasser Abbas, son of Palestinian National Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but did not apply the anti-SLAPP statute.

Not long after a federal anti-SLAPP bill with bipartisan co-sponsors was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last month, the Washington State Supreme Court struck down that state's anti-SLAPP law, saying it denied litigants their right to a trial by jury. As anti-SLAPP laws become ever more important to journalists, the loss of a strong state statute leaves many hoping that the federal effort will finally bear fruit.

Washington Supreme Court strikes down anti-SLAPP law as unconstitutional

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | May 28, 2015
News
May 28, 2015

In a disappointing ruling today, the Washington Supreme Court struck down the state’s anti-SLAPP law in its entirety, holding that it violates the right to trial by jury under the Washington Constitution.

The decision marks the first time an anti-SLAPP law has been held unconstitutional. The Washington law, RCW 4.24.525, required judges to weigh the disputed facts of cases and dismiss them if they determined that the plaintiff could not show by clear and convincing evidence a probability of prevailing on the claim. The Washington Supreme Court held that it must be juries, not judges, who make those determinations of fact.

Federal anti-SLAPP bill introduced in the House

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | May 15, 2015
News
May 15, 2015

A federal anti-SLAPP bill with bipartisan co-sponsors was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives this week. The SPEAK FREE Act, introduced Wednesday by Reps. Blake Farenthold, R-Texas, and Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., is seen as an important step toward nationwide protection against meritless suits that chill speech.

Bill enhancing Florida's anti-SLAPP law heads to governor for approval

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | April 29, 2015
News
April 29, 2015

A Florida bill that would revise the state’s narrow anti-SLAPP law to provide a greater level of protection for speakers against meritless lawsuits has passed both houses of the legislature and now awaits Gov. Rick Scott’s signature.

Florida’s anti-SLAPP law, Fla. Stat. § 768.295, currently only provides for the speedy dismissal of SLAPP suits when such frivolous suits are filed by government entities. In practice, "strategic lawsuits against public participation," or SLAPPs, are filed by a wide range of plaintiffs, with far more deleterious effects on speakers than just those suits brought by the government.

Letter to Nevada State Assembly on Proposed Revisions to Anti-SLAPP Law

April 23, 2015

Nevada Senate Bill 444, introduced in the Legislature with the support of casino owner Steve Wynn, aimed to scale back the protections of the state's anti-SLAPP law. The bill quickly passed the Senate and was under consideration by the Assembly Committee on Judiciary when the Reporters Committee wrote its letter.

The Reporters Committee argued that, by making it easier for plaintiffs seeking to stifle public debate by embroiling speakers in meritless, protracted litigation, SB444 would chill speech on matters of interest and importance to the public. Nevada's anti-SLAPP law is strong in its protection of speech and special interests should not be able to weaken it to serve their own ends.

D.C. Circuit decision highlights need for federal anti-SLAPP law

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | April 27, 2015
News
April 27, 2015

The decision of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to throw out the defamation suit in Abbas v. Foreign Policy on Friday was a bittersweet victory for First Amendment advocates, as the court also decided that the D.C. anti-SLAPP law did not apply in federal court. This negative result shows clearly why Congress should pass federal anti-SLAPP legislation that would protect speakers who cannot benefit from their state’s anti-SLAPP law, as well as those in states that have no such law.

Fast-moving bill would weaken Nevada anti-SLAPP law's protections

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | April 22, 2015
News
April 22, 2015

A bill modifying Nevada’s anti-SLAPP law, pushed by hotel and casino company Wynn Resorts, has made its way through the Nevada Senate Judiciary Committee and has been passed unanimously by the Senate. Though its proponents frame it as striking a balance between free speech and the right to petition, Senate Bill 444 essentially eviscerates the protections given to speakers under the anti-SLAPP law by modifying wording and key clauses that allow speakers to efficiently fight back against lawsuits intended to chill speech. If the state assembly also passes the bill and it is signed by the governor, speakers in that state will have real problems defending against these attacks without the help of what is currently one of the strongest anti-SLAPP laws in the nation.

Virginia Supreme Court won't force Yelp to reveal identities of anonymous commenters

Kimberly Chow | Libel | News | April 16, 2015
News
April 16, 2015

In a victory for Yelp and its anonymous commenters, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled today that the circuit court could not force the California-based online review site to reveal the identities of users who had posted negative reviews of a Virginia carpet-cleaning company.

New World Communications of Atlanta v. Ladner

February 2, 2015

In connection with a civil lawsuit filed after an accident at a veteran's parade, the Atlanta FOX 5 television station broadcast a series of news reports detailing the police investigation and indictment of the plaintiff, Shane Lardner, for lying about having a Purple Heart. Ladner sued for defamation, and FOX 5 attempted to use the Georgia anti-SLAPP law to have the suit dismissed. The trial court ruled that the anti-SLAPP law was inapplicable because the news reports did not qualify as statements "made in connection with" an official proceeding and because they were "sensationalistic." The Reporters Committee wrote an amicus brief supporting FOX 5's petition for review to the Georgia Supreme Court, arguing that the trial court applied an unduly narrow interpretation of the anti-SLAPP statute, which should cover media reports discussing lawsuits.

Neumann v. Liles

September 24, 2014

Proprietors of Dancing Deer Mountain, a wedding venue in Oregon, sued a Google reviewer, Christopher Liles, for libel following his negative review of his experience at a wedding there. The Oregon Court of Appeals held that some of the defendant's statements were actionable, such as calling the plaintiff "rude" and "crooked," while the defendant argued that those were non-actionable statements of opinion. This filing was asking the Oregon Supreme Court to review the Court of Appeals decisions. The Reporters Committee argued that the Oregon Supreme Court should accept the defendants Petition for Review because of the importance of clarifying what non-actionable opinion is in the state. The Court of Appeals decisions created confusion as to what may be stated in an online review and what will expose a commenter to liability. Such confusion could limit free speech and have serious consequences for public debate.