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Libel suit over Sharper Image product review dismissed

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Libel suit over Sharper Image product review dismissed

  • A suit brought by the retailer against Consumer Reports magazine was dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP law.

Nov. 11, 2004 — U.S. District Judge Maxine Chesney in San Francisco dismissed a libel suit filed by a retailer against the publisher of a consumer magazine after the publisher convinced the judge that its review warranted protection under a California law meant to discourage frivolous First Amendment litigation.

Sharper Image sued Consumer Union over Consumer Reports’ unfavorable reviews of a Sharper Image product, the Ionic Breeze Quadra Air Purifier. Sharper Image alleged the reviews were the result of bad testing procedures administered by the Consumer Reports staff and that libelous action by the staff resulted in “negligent product disparagement.”

Consumer Union countered by filing an anti-SLAPP motion, seeking to have the case dismissed. The California anti-SLAPP law is meant to protect against “strategic lawsuits against public participation” — lawsuits filed by parties with the intent of quieting a critic.

Sharper Image argued that Consumer Union “knowingly and maliciously” published incorrect information about its product and that the two articles about its products were “incomplete, inaccurate and at times very misleading.”

In the decision, the issue of malice was never considered, according to The Recorder , a San Francisco legal publication.”The court finds Sharper Image has not provided sufficient evidence to support a finding that . . . it has a reasonable probability of establishing that any of the challenged statements are false,” the judge ruled.

Sharper Image is expected to appeal. A similar case was filed against the publisher in 1996, when Consumer Reports’ published negative reviews of the Suzuki Samurai sport utility vehicle. That case was settled after the U.S. Court of Appeals in San Francisco (9th Cir.) ruled in 2002 that Suzuki’s claim should not be dismissed.

(Sharper Image v. Consumers Union; Media Counsel: Steven Williams, Cotchett, Pitre, Simon & McCarthy, Burlingame, Calif.) EF

© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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