Today, the City Paper and reporter Dave McKenna filed a motion to dismiss the complaint brought by Daniel Snyder in the District of Columbia Superior Court. The defendants are moving under the District of Columbia’s recently enacted anti-SLAPP statute.
The motion argues that dismissal is necessary because Snyder “seeks to use the processes of this Court as a vehicle to punish the author and publisher of a commentary critical of him, and to send a message to the news media generally that such reporting will lead to prohibitively expensive and time-consuming litigation.” It argues that the article in question “plainly constitutes ‘expressive conduct that involves . . . communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest” so that dismissal is required unless Snyder can show that he is likely to succeed on the merits, which the defendants argue he cannot show.
The Snyder complaint, which was filed in Superior Court on April 26, 2011, alleges that a November 2010 article by McKenna defamed Snyder by falsely asserting that he “got caught forging names as a telemarketer for Snyder Communications,” “cut down trees protected by the National Park Service,” and “was ‘tossed’ off the Six Flags’ board of directors.” It also asserts that the harm was magnified by an allegedly “anti-Semitic depiction of Mr. Snyder on the first page of the Article.”
In the memorandum of law in support of the anti-SLAPP motion, the defendants argue that dismissal is required because the article “[is] ‘[an] act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest.” The publication of the commentary easily satisfies the requirement that the conduct involve communicating views to members of the general public. The defendants argue that the second element – that the communication involve an “issue of public interest” – is satisfied because Snyder is a public figure.
The defendants argue that, because they have shown that the communication falls within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute, Snyder must show that he is “likely” to prevail on his claim in order to avoid dismissal, and argue that he cannot carry this burden because the challenged statements are non-actionable rhetorical hyperbole, substantially true, or protected by the fair comment privilege.
The anti-SLAPP motion is a serious challenge to the Snyder defamation suit. The defendants have done an excellent job of showing that the suit falls squarely within the scope of the statute and Snyder will have an uphill battle in preventing the court from dismissing the case and awarding fees.