Dan Snyder Gets a Taste of D.C.'s New Anti-SLAPP Law

We've previously mentioned Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder's lawsuit against the Washington City Paper. (Quick refresher: the City Paper published a stinging catalogue of Snyder's public failings; Snyder sued.) On Friday night, the latest chapter of the saga began: the City Paper filed a motion to dismiss under Washington, D.C.'s spanking-new anti-SLAPP statute. Those of us who care about SLAPPs could hardly have asked for a better high-publicity example.

The full pile of documents--the motion and its accompanying memo, affidavit, and exhibits--is available at the City Paper's website. The memo in particular is admirably thorough, and provides an excellent example of D.C.'s new statute in action; in it, the City Paper's lawyers lay out the two-step process--first show that the contested content is advocacy related to an issue of public interest, then show that the plaintiff cannot meet his burden of proving he is "likely" to win his claim--in detail. A few highlights, listed in the order in which they appear: 

  • Page 1: The first footnote points out that Rep. Steve Cohen, who is sponsoring the proposed federal anti-SLAPP statute, stated in an op-ed in that Snyder's lawsuit is a prototypical SLAPP.
  • Pages 8-9: The memo details correspondence sent by Snyder's attorney that shows that Snyder's real goal in filing the lawsuit was to make the City Paper capitulate because the cost of defending against the lawsuit would "quickly outstrip the asset value of the [newspaper]."
  • Page 10: Notes that Snyder's advisor openly called the lawsuit "a warning shot to other members of the media," presumably to get them to stop reporting on Snyder.
  • Pages 12-19:  Airs some of Snyder's dirty laundry by detailing his various business and personal failings that give rise to many of the statements in the lawsuit; not exactly what Snyder wants to focus on, one suspects.

Fortunately, the City Paper's anti-SLAPP motion stays the subpoena Snyder issued to Washington Post blogger Dan Steinberg.  Snyder's attorneys appear to have subpoenaed Steinberg because he linked to the original City Paper article. The subpoena, in demanding access to various and sundry documents relating to Steinberg's relationship with the City Paper, stopped just short of asking to see Steinberg's diary.  These sorts of side-SLAPP subpoenas can be fought, but pose a serious threat in and of themselves. 

The memo closes by providing a bird's eye view of DC's anti-SLAPP law in action.  It begins by showing that the City Paper's article, as advocacy on issues of public interest, qualifies for protection under the new statute.  It then goes on to argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed beause Snyder is "unlikely" to win his claims given that the contested portions of the article are hyperbolic, true, and protected under the subsidiary meaning doctrine.

Now, we wait to see what Snyder does in response. The D.C. statute allows (but doesn't require) the judge to award the City Paper court costs and attorneys' fees if its motion prevails; more important than that, though, is the example this motion can set: Snyder's lawsuit is already highly publicized and roundly mocked; if/when the new anti-SLAPP statute provides the City Paper with dismissal, we'll have a prominent example of just how useful and important these statutes can be. Combined with new statutes in states like Texas, the anti-SLAPP movement could gain some serious momentum.

John Sharkey is a CMLP blogger fresh off his first year at Harvard Law School. Since his last post, the Twins' chances haven't gotten much worse. 


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