This interlocutory appeal requires us to decide whether the motion-to-strike procedure of the Georgia anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute, O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1, applies in federal court. Davide Carbone filed a complaint against Cable News Network for publishing a series of allegedly defamatory news reports about him and the medical center he administered. CNN moved to strike the complaint under the Georgia anti-SLAPP statute or, in the alternative, to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim for relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court denied that motion. It ruled that the special-dismissal provision of the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply in federal court because it conflicts with Rule 12(b)(6) and that Carbone’s complaint states a claim for relief. CNN challenges both rulings. We agree with the district court that the special-dismissal provision of the Georgia anti-SLAPP statute does not apply in federal court, but we lack pendent appellate jurisdiction to review whether Carbone’s complaint states a claim for relief. We affirm in part and dismiss in part.
Anti-SLAPP laws are designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits filed against people for the exercise of First Amendment rights. The acronym “SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation – a phrase coined by two law school professors in the late 1980s. They identified a trend of retaliatory lawsuits brought to intimidate and silence opponents or critics who had spoken out in the public sphere, typically on land use and development issues. The actual resolution of the plaintiff’s claims – for defamation, tortious interference or related theories – was a secondary motivation at best. Anti-SLAPP statutes were proposed to provide a quick, effective and inexpensive mechanism to combat such suits. Anti-SLAPP laws enable those who are the subject of a SLAPP suit to seek early dismissal and oftentimes get their legal fees reimbursed. The fact an anti-SLAPP law is on the books in a jurisdiction can also help to deter potential litigants from filing retaliatory lawsuits in the first place.
This ruling is going to seriously hurt. In Canada, two doctors went after the CBC in 1996, while this country isn’t known for awarding big payouts in civil cases, for the CBC, they made a big exception. Journalists often use the façade that the person suing for defamation is a villain wanting to silence them, but honestly, that’s not too common: suing a large institution is intimidating, stacked against the ones suing, expensive, cruel, and slow.
In the CBC’s case, the melodrama proved troublesome as the facts took a backseat. In the CNN case, if the network used bad statistics and bad empirical methodology, they are in serious hot water, especially given the compulsion to use narrative over the mere replaying of facts.
And if that is the case here, as it was with the CBC, there is no better argument to replace journalism with an alternative that doesn’t commit those kinds of amateur errors in the first place…