SLAPPs Clogging Our Civil Justice System
Frivolous Lawsuits Brought on the Basis of Speech
- In September of 2008, New York attorney Marina Tylo filed a lawsuit against blogger Andrew Lavoott Bluestone of the New York Attorney Malpractice Blog, seeking $10,000,000 in damages for libel, negligence, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and tortious interference with prospective contractual relations. Tylo’s lawsuit arose out of a neutral statement on Bluestone’s blog stating only – and truthfully – that Tylo had been sued for malpractice. New York Civil Rights Law provides that speakers cannot be held liable for giving a “fair and true report of any judicial proceeding, legislative proceeding or other official proceeding,” which commentators believe encompassed Lavoott’s statement. In November of 2008, Tylo voluntarily discontinued the lawsuit. Tylo v. Bluestone, 24690/2008.
- In August of 2008, the law firm Jones Day sued Chicago’s BlockShopper site, a site that reports on real estate transactions, often with descriptions of those buying and selling homes. Jones Day alleged trademark infringement and unfair trade practices based on Blockshopper’s use of Jones Day’s service marks, links to the Jones Day site and the use of its lawyers’ photos. To avoid the expense of litigating the suit against a large law firm, BlockShopper agreed to take down the three stories at issue temporarily, but Jones Day then refused to drop the complaint. In negotiations, Jones Day told BlockShopper it would drop the case if BlockShopper paid it $10,000 and agreed to never write about its lawyers’ real estate transactions again, but BlockShopper declined the offer and the suit proceeded. Trial was set for February 2009, and on January 30, the two parties settled on the condition that Blockshopper would no longer use embedded links when linking to the Jones Day site. Jones Day v. Blockshopper, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94442.
- In the early 2000s, DIRECTV sent demand letters to thousands of people who purchased certain devices that can pirate DIRECTV’s television programming, requesting the recipients cease using the devices. An attorney searched internet sites promoting satellite television piracy to find a class of plaintiffs who were recipients of DIRECTV’s demand letters. The uncertified class sued DIRECTV, alleging that the conduct of mailing the demand letters was an unfair business practice under California law, a violation of plaintiffs’ civil rights, and extortion. DIRECTV brought a motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP law, which the trial court granted. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that their suit should be outside the scope of the anti-SLAPP law because it was brought in the public interest. The court found that the suit was brought entirely for plaintiffs’ own gain, with little or no impact on the public, and that in any event, DIRECTV’s demand letters were pre-litigation statements protected by the California litigation privilege, and therefore not subject to civil liability. It affirmed the grant of the anti-SLAPP motion and allowed DIRECTV to recover attorney’s fees incurred in litigating the SLAPP. Blanchard v. DIRECTV, Inc., 123 Cal.App.4th 903 (2004).