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D.C.’s anti-SLAPP statute to be tested in defamation case

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  1. Libel and Privacy

The Washington, D.C., attorney general has until the end of this month to explain to the court why he believes the latest challenge to the District’s anti-SLAPP law is not valid.

District Judge Robert L. Wilkins issued the order to allow Attorney General Irvin Nathan to intervene in the case of attorney Lanny Davis, a Fox News contributor and former Clinton adviser who is accused of making a series of defamatory statements against Minnesota-based company 3M Corp.

In this request to intervene, Nathan wrote that the District “seeks to intervene solely for the limited purpose of presenting argument to defend the validity of the Anti-SLAPP Act,” and “to assert its applicability in federal court.” Wilkins issued a Nov. 29 deadline for Nathan to file a brief in defense of the anti-SLAPP statute, which took effect earlier this year.

SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) suits are typically filed by parties with extensive resources in an effort to bury opponents in expensive litigation.

In his motion for intervention, Nathan wrote that “the District takes no position on the merits of any parties’ claims or defenses in the underlying lawsuit,” and it would not “burden the court” with further filings.

The complaint against Davis was filed in August. The manufacturing company accused Davis of helping execute a “conspiracy” against 3M after it failed to develop a product called BacLite in the U.S., a venture in which Davis’ client, Porton Capital Inc., had invested.

A London court ordered 3M to pay Porton Capital Inc. $1.3 million in damages earlier this week, but 3M is continuing its pursuit of Davis, who it claims made disparaging and defamatory remarks about the company at media events, a website and various written commentaries.

Davis moved to dismiss the defamation suit last month on anti-SLAPP grounds, accusing 3M of “initiating a war of attrition whose cost will eventually shut the critic up.” The motion called “laughable” the idea that Davis could intimidate a multi-billion dollar company such as 3M, and said the suit was meant to stifle freedom of speech.

3M responded with a motion to strike the anti-SLAPP motion, claiming in part that the anti-SLAPP Act is inapplicable in federal court.

This case marks the third time D.C.’s anti-SLAPP law has come into play since becoming law earlier this year. In September, Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder dropped his suit in Snyder v. Creative Loafing, Inc., in which he claimed a reporter had defamed him in a Washington City Paper article.

Another similar anti-SLAPP case, Sherrod v. Breitbart, is pending appeal in the D.C. Circuit Court, Former Obama administration official Shirley Sherrod claims two writers from allegedly defamed her in a YouTube video, which she said was edited in a way that misconstrued a speech that she made.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story stated that District Judge Robert L. Wilkins issued the order granting the attorney general’s motion to intervene last week. The order was actually issued on Nov. 15.

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