Florida SLAPP Stories
Sued for Speaking Out in Florida!
- In 2006, members of a local group called Jensen Beach were sued by developer Bill Reily for defamation, tortious interference with business and subjecting him to criminal mischief. In November of 2008, the judge dismissed all claims against the residents. But, as of February 2009 the group is still litigating the case in an attempt to recoup fees. Their efforts to raise some of their costs, through a bake sale offering such treats as “Condo Crunch” and “We Spoke at a Public Meeting and It Got Us into a Jam” jam, showed good humor but did not raise sufficient funds.
- In 2007, a Florida resident was sued in Texas, which has no anti-SLAPP law, for defamation based on an article he posted on Front Page Magazine’s website. He alleged that two Muslim groups had ties to terrorist organizations abroad. Neither of the organizations he mentioned sued him, but several Texas Islamic associations did. The trial court denied his motion for summary judgment and issued a restraining order against him; on June 25, 2009, the appeals court reversed the trial court, granting summary judgment and finding that the article the defendant had written was not “of and concerning” any of the plaintiffs as a matter of law, and therefore that the plaintiffs had no cause of action.
- In February of 2007, real estate developer Veranda Partners issued a cease-and-desist letter to a resident who published a website about the Veranda Park area. The citizen did so – but was sued anyway, for defamation. In September of 2008, the court dismissed the case on summary judgment, finding that the plaintiff failed to allege a prima facie case. The court also awarded the defendant treble damages under Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute. In doing so, the court implicitly held that Veranda Partners was a government entity, and that the defendant’s statements constituted petitioning activity.
- In November of 2009, Miami law professor Donald Marvin Jones sued the popular website Abovethelaw.com, along with its parent company and editor David Lat, alleging $22 million in damages. Jones had been arrested on suspicion of soliciting an undercover officer for sex, and Abovethelaw commented on the arrest, calling Jones the “Nutty Professor.” Jones sued for this statement, and for damages he alleges arose from a collage posted by an anonymous commenter featured him soliciting sex. In his rather strangely-worded complaint, Jones makes allegations of false light, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, and posits that each of these injuries was motivated by racism. Each of these claims appears weak: False light is no longer recognized as a tort in Florida, and Abovethelaw.com is not legally liable for material posted there by other authors. Jones brought the suit in federal court, where there is no anti-SLAPP law. Even if the court were to apply the state’s anti-SLAPP law, Florida’s anti-SLAPP statutes do not protect statements such as those made by and posted on Abovethelaw.com about Jones. Jones v. Minkin, et. al., Case 1:09-cv-23256-MGC (Filed Oct. 27, 2009).
- In April of 2009 in Orlando, local police chief Val Demings threatened to sue a web critic who put up a site highlighting how the chief had her gun stolen from her car, and then that news was kept secret for a while. The chief is threatening to bring a defamation suit. Even if she could point to false facts, her status as a public figure makes it very unlikely she would prevail on such a claim. Demings also claimed damage in so much as the blogger portrayed truthful facts in “false light,” but Florida Supreme Court had already ruled that “false light isn’t a legitimate cause of action and has the potential to chill free speech.” Contrast the Florida Court’s ruling with Demings’ attorney’s opinion about truthful speech: “Truth is not always a defense. I hope he [Harris] gets himself a really good lawyer.”