New York SLAPP Stories
New York SLAPPs
- A recent defamation suit by Jim Dolan, the New York owner of the Knicks, Cablevision and Madison Square Garden, illustrates the true chill that SLAPP can have on speech. In 2006, a reporter and then co-publisher of Cityfile, a New York City blog, wrote a column about circulating rumors that Dolan planned to make changes to the Christmas pageantry at Madison Square Garden’s Radio City Music Hall, including possibly eliminating the iconic Rockettes. Rather than set the story straight – perhaps in one of the media outlets he owns – Dolan sued the reporter, editor, and Cityfile itself for defamation in New York Court. As Arthur Bright at Citizen Media Law Project noted, “any decent First Amendment lawyer could have gotten this lawsuit thrown out of court.” But, the New York anti-SLAPP law would not have protected Cityfile’s statements, so Cityfile would not have been able to expedite the lawsuit or recover fees under the statute. Faced with the prospect of costly litigation against a formidable opponent, Cityfile settled the case and agreed to print a retraction of the story. Although the fate of the Madison Square Garden’s Christmas Pageantry may not be of the utmost importance, it is nonetheless worrying that one powerful person’s lawsuit could so effectively silence speech.
- In 2003, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) was advocating on behalf of tenants in several Bronx buildings, picketing and posting flyers that highlighted the egregiously substandard conditions in which the tenants were living. Rather than fix the conditions or otherwise address the criticisms, a realty company that owned five of the buildings filed suit against the NWBCCC, claiming trespass, libel and wrongful interference with business relationships. The trial court initially granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the organizers from “trespassing” onto the realty company’s property. Although the court eventually held that the realty firms had failed to submit any evidence in support of its claims, it nonetheless allowed litigation to proceed for years. Meanwhile, the SLAPP was exceedingly effective at halting the NWBCCC’s advocacy. One staffer explains that, “we basically stopped working in most of the buildings we were involved in because we were afraid they would be added on [to the lawsuit].” Further, the NWBCCC racked up more than one million dollars in attorney’s fees and costs, siphoning funds from the mission and serving as a very effective threat to other community organizations. See New Line Realty Corp. v. United Committees of University Heights, Case. No. 1020/1004 (N.Y. Jul. 24, 2008).
- In 1992, Entertainment Partners Group, Inc. (EPG) received a permit to develop a nightclub in New York City. The local block association opposed the development and appealed the permit, which resulted in a modified permit that limited the size of the allowed dance floor. Apparently very unhappy with the smaller dance floor, the EPG opted not to appeal the decision, but to sue the individual leaders of the block association and their attorney. The court, holding that the lawsuit “impermissibly assailed an exercise of the defendants’ constitutional right to petition government for a redress of grievances,” dismissed the suit. In the Matter of Entertainment Partners Group, Inc. v. Davis, 590 N.Y.S.2d 979 (N.Y. Supreme Court, 1992).