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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Filed Under: anti-slapp, dan snyder, libel


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Mar 2011 @ 6:55am

    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...". Thinking that anti-SLAPP laws would suddenly turn the libel law into a free pass is silly.

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