How Dan Snyder's 'Libel' Suit Against Unflattering Article Demonstrates Need For Federal Anti-SLAPP Law

from the libel-me-this dept

In February, we wrote about how Washington Redskins (er, we mean Washington Professional Football Team Who Shall Not Be Named) owner Dan Snyder had such a thin skin that he had sued a local newspaper, the Washington City Paper, claiming libel over a silly satirical story that mocked Snyder.

Not only did it draw a lot more attention to the claims against Snyder, there were all sorts of problems with the lawsuit itself, including the absolutely ridiculous charge that scribbling devil features on his image was “anti-semitic.” It’s not. But, as some have pointed out, even if it was, being anti-semitic is not against the law. However, people digging into most of the other charges have found they’re pretty questionable as well. For example, the article claimed that Snyder “was caught forging names as a telemarketer.” Snyder claims this is false. However, what is true is that the company he owned, Snyder Communications paid a large fine for slamming — which is effectively forging names. Snyder claims that it was the company, not him, who did this, and thus the charge is libelous.

What makes this claim particularly ironic, is that Snyder has focused his legal efforts in this case on… the parent company of the newspaper who wrote the letter. So, in Snyder’s mind, apparently, when people at his companies do something illegal, his hands are clean. But, if someone at another company says something that kinda, sorta, might be untrue… liability goes all the way up to the top.

From a legal perspective, though, there were numerous questions as to why Snyder filed the lawsuit in New York. After all, all of the major players in the lawsuit are in and around the Washington DC/Maryland area. Paul Alan Levy suggests a reasonable answer: Washington DC and Maryland have reasonable anti-SLAPP laws that would likely get such a lawsuit tossed out quickly (and could subject Snyder to legal fees). New York, on the other hand, has a very narrow anti-SLAPP law, which does not apply to this case.

Even more amazing is that it appears that Snyder or his lawyer effectively admits upfront that this is a SLAPP attempt. In the letter sent to Washington City Paper’s ultimate parent company, Atalaya, Snyder warns that fighting back against the suit “would not be a rational strategy for an investment fund such as yours” because “the cost of litigation would presumably outstrip the asset value of the Washington City Paper.” That seems like a pretty clear admission that the purpose of the lawsuit is to suppress public speech.

Levy’s point is that this lawsuit is yet another reminder of why we need a federal anti-SLAPP law, which would allow defendants in cases such as this to hit back quickly, and to deter similar cases which are filed to stifle criticism and comment. It’s really unfortunate that Congress still has not prioritized a federal anti-SLAPP law, despite various proposals for one. Hopefully, Congressional support will come around soon.

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Comments on “How Dan Snyder's 'Libel' Suit Against Unflattering Article Demonstrates Need For Federal Anti-SLAPP Law”

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16 Comments
The Devil's Coachman (profile) says:

Dan Snyder is a festering sack of monkey dung!

Not only that, as a result of his condition, he has been reported by some to smell like major ass. That, coupled with the fact that he is a complete and total douchebag, and his football team fellates iguanas, adds up to one pretty complete loser and buttwipe, in my opinion. Think he’ll sue me for this? Go ahead and try, beeyotch!

Anonymous Coward says:

Welcome to Snyderville

Are all Snyders such jerks, or are these guys related?

There used to be a youtube video on it, but it looks like the kids took it mainstream..

http://articles.southbendtribune.com/2007-03-05/news/26820964_1_short-films-film-festival-shot-last-spring

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/1458074/posts

It’s a really good story…and sounds sooo familiar….

Paul Alan Levy (profile) says:

Re Anon Coward Number 3

Anti-SLAPP doesn’t help when the statements are libelous, or at least “questionable”.

There is a great difference between “Mr Snyder was caught…” and “Mr Snyder’s company was caught…”

******

Right, this is presumably the basis on which Snyder is claiming libel.

But another point I make in my blog post is that there is more than a little irony in Snyder’s complaining on this basis, in light of his demand letter to Atalaya, the hedge fund that owns the company and that owns the City Paper as a result of bankruptcy proceeding, and which, in turn, is his excuse for filing the lawsuit in New York. Snyder treats Atalaya as being liable for tortious conduct by an entity that is two layers of ownership down the line. And yet more irony — “Snyder’s demand letter” was actually from the General Counsel of the Washington Deadskins.

So if Snyder doesn’t draw fine distinctions between the corporate and the personal, it is not at all clear why the reporter should be held liable on an actual malice standard for failure to do so.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re Anon Coward Number 3

The writer who put the story up was basically just doing their job. The paper as a whole (and the ownership company) bears responsbility because the writer, the editor, the proofreaders, and all those other people all passed the story as acceptable.

So, the company (the newspaper) would bear responsiblity.

Mr Snyders company is in the same boat, with the same results.

Mr Snyder didn’t commit the acts, any more than the individual owners of the newspaper committed the libel. It is pretty fair, no?

Mike tries hard to twist it, but in the end, it is the same thing.

Chuck says:

Even his own fans don't like him

Snyder is one of the worst humans in the world. Even the fans of the Redskins don’t like him. I live in the DC area and am a die hard read skins fan but I along with most redskin fans hate snyder. He has run the team in t the ground and cares nothing except getting his hands on more money. When he bought the team after the late Jack Kent Cook passed he sold the rights to name the new stadium FedEx field instead of what it was suppose to be named which was Jack Kent Cook stadium. The man is despicable. Furthermore this isnt the first case of his thin skin. He has bought numerous papers and radio stations in the area simply because the stations talk shows basically blasted him. His mentality is if they talk bad about me sue them or buy them.

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