Eagle Broadband v. Mould: Another Internet Defamation Suit Dismissed as SLAPP

It's been a busy month or so for the California anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. ยง 425.16). In late October, a California trial court granted Perez Hilton's motion to strike in Ronson v. Lavandeira. More recently, another court granted the anti-SLAPP motion of Richard Silverstein and Joel Beinin in the poltically charged case, Neuwirth v. Silverstein. Adding to this list, last Friday, in Eagle Broadband v. Mould, 2007 WL 4358515 (Cal. Ct. App. Dec. 14, 2007), a California appellate court upheld the trial court's grant of Thomas Mould's motion to strike pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute and reversed the trial court's denial of Richard Williams's similar motion. The appellate court also affirmed the trial court's award of approximately $65,000 in attorney's fees to Mould pursuant to the statute.

The case involved a number of critical postings about Eagle Broadband on a Yahoo! Finance message board. Among the appellate court's more interesting rulings was that Williams's posting of a "fake press release" in Eagle's name could not support a defamation or trade libel claim because "the average reader would recognize the mock press release as parody" and, as such, it "did not defame [plaintiff] by false attribution or presentation of false facts." Eagle, slip. 0p. at 43. The court also held that Eagle's trade libel claims against both defendants failed for lack of evidence of special damages (i.e., specific pecuniary harm). Eagle had submitted an affidavit from an expert indicating that Eagle's share price dropped 76% in the months surrounding the posting of the messages. The court rejected this evidence, however, emphasizing that it did not identify "particular customers and transactions of which [plaintiff] was deprived as a result of the libel." Id. at 44-45.

(For details and court documents, please see our database entry, Eagle Broadband v. Mould.)

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