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Libel suit dismissed under Indiana's anti-SLAPP statute

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  1. Libel and Privacy
 A federal judge has dismissed a defamation suit filed against an Indianapolis TV station for an in-depth report on Internet…

 A federal judge has dismissed a defamation suit filed against an Indianapolis TV station for an in-depth report on Internet pharmacies, including a Canadian pharmacy-benefits company, CanaRX Services, Inc., which filed the action.

U.S. District Judge Larry McKinney ruled that Indiana’s “anti-SLAPP” law barred the suit. The law, whose acronym stands for "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation," was designed to defend acts or omissions “made in the furtherance of free speech and in good faith” — exactly the kind of statements made by WISH-TV reporters, McKinney wrote in the decision.

CanaRx attorney Joseph A. Morris called the judge’s move “bizarre,” since the company had not yet responded to the dismissal motion in writing.

“It ought to be inapplicable because we want an opportunity to participate in discourse and felt immediately excluded by this medium,” he said.    

CanaRx sued WISH-TV over a November 2007 broadcast featuring information gleaned from FDA reports about dangerous fillers in drugs bought online. CanaRx claimed general statements attributed to an FDA spokesperson and the reporter’s reference to the company as a “pharmacy,” rather than a “pharmacy-benefits company,” injured its reputation or “excited derogatory feelings or opinions about the company,” according to the opinion. 

Indiana is one of 24 states with an anti-SLAPP law, which protects against lawsuits intended to silence free speech. In order to dismiss the CanaRX suit, McKinney had to find that the statements at issue were made in "furtherance of [the] right of free speech in connection with a public issue, " spoken in good faith and were lawful, or not defamatory.

McKinney deemed that investigative reporter Karen Hensel’s actions, which included calling CanaRx for comment and researching for months, did not constitute actual malice and so were not defamatory.

Jeff White, the general manager for WISH-TV, said dismissal under the anti-SLAPP law “vindicated our reporter and our station.”