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Court says Anti-SLAPP law allows newspaper to avoid some suits

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  1. Libel and Privacy
MASSACHUSETTS--In mid-May a state court in Salem held that the state's anti-SLAPP law protects the news media against some libel…

MASSACHUSETTS–In mid-May a state court in Salem held that the state’s anti-SLAPP law protects the news media against some libel suits. However, the court held that, in the case before it, the law provided no protection because the publication that served as the basis for the lawsuit was “devoid of any reasonable factual support” and caused “actual injury.”

Superior Court Justice Howard Whitehead held that the state’s law to provide for the early dismissal of “strategic litigation against public participation” potentially protected the Salem Evening News from a libel suit brought against it by local landowner S. Steve Salvo. Whitehead found that the newspaper’s report on a land development proposal brought by Salvo before the Salem Planning Board fit the definition of speech protected by the law — a “written . . . statement made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other governmental proceeding.”

Therefore, the court held, Salvo would have to prove that the allegedly libelous statement in the Evening News story was inaccurate and that he had suffered some actual injury as a result of its publication.

Whitehead then found that Salvo had met this burden. The Evening News reported that Salvo had gotten the city government to “swap some land with him” and that he had “developed a home . . . on what was thought to be unbuildable wetlands.” The court found that the exchange between Salvo and the government could not be considered a “swap” and that a subsequent owner of a property once owned by Salvo had done the development.

Salvo alleged that, as a result of the article in the Evening News, he suffered damage to his reputation, pain in his arm and jaw, a possible stroke and mental anguish in the form of an “anxiety disorder.” The court found no support for any of his claims except his assertion of mental anguish, which Salvo sufficiently proved was caused by the article, according to Whitehead. (Salvo v. Ottoway Newspapers, Inc.; Media Counsel: Edmund Smith, Salem, Mass.)