In October of 2017, Danny Lawler was shocked to learn his father was in the hospital and rushed to his bedside. What he found there was extremely disturbing: he believed the staff there was completely inattentive. So, he complained.
Lawler, the former Publisher of the Shreveport Inquisitor, took to Facebook to voice his frustration, and found that many of his friends from the area had similar experiences at the same emergency room. Being a newspaperman, he wrote a column about his poor experience there.
The Inquisitor, a community paper in the Shreveport-Bossier City area, prominently featured the article on its front page.
But Lawler and his publishing company were sued for defamation by the doctor in charge and, following a years-long fight on an unrelated issue, filed a motion to have the defamation suit dismissed via Louisiana’s anti-SLAPP law. The Motion was heard at the 19th Judicial District Court in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, before Judge Richard “Chip” Moore.
Thankfully for the Inquisitor, Louisiana law provides a procedural mechanism to dismiss lawsuits brought against people for defamation when they are merely expressing their opinions. Louisiana’s “anti-SLAPP” law, as it is called, (defined as a strategic lawsuit against public participation) is codified at Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure article 971. It protects speakers and publishers against malicious or meritless lawsuits filed that arise “from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States or Louisiana Constitution.”
“Anti-SLAPP exists precisely for this reason: to ensure that the right to freedom of speech and the press is not chilled by frivolous lawsuits,” said attorney Scott Sternberg, who argued the anti-SLAPP Motion.
The anti-SLAPP law also allows for people who have been sued under such circumstances to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs if they are successful in advancing their anti-SLAPP Motion – an incredibly helpful tool for small publications such as the Inquisitor. SNW was successful in not only winning the Motion, but in recovering attorneys’ fees on behalf of a grateful client. Lawler recently sold the paper to a new owner, but said he is thrilled that Louisiana law protected him from what he considered a “malicious” lawsuit.
“As a publisher, you hate to see a defamation lawsuit that could cause your business to completely go belly-up,” Lawler said after the ruling was released October 9, 2019. “Fortunately, the law was on our side and our attorneys obtained a complete dismissal of the action, which is exactly how it should have gone. We are thrilled!”
SNW provides advice and representation in litigation for individuals, newspapers and other media companies on First Amendment issues including access, privacy and defamation issues. For more information on SNW’s media and First Amendment law practice, contact Scott Sternberg at email@example.com.