Blogger Claims Defamation Suit Should Be Dismissed

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Joined by friends of the court, The New York Times, the Washington Post and Dow Jones & Co., a co-defendant in a defamation suit against the now-deceased conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart argued for dismissal of the charges before the D.C. Court of Appeals. The defamation suit was filed in 2011 by former Agriculture Department rural development employee Shirley Sherrod. As you might recall, Breitbart posted an edited video of Sherrod, who is black, making what appeared to be anti-white comments at an NAACP event. The video caused an outcry resulting in Sherrod’s resignation. Only afterwards did a copy of the full exchange become available. In its unedited form, the video made clear that Sherrod was telling a story about racial reconciliation. Public apologies, including one from President Obama, were addressed to Ms. Sherrod including an offer of reinstatement, which was rejected.

In this important case regarding the rights of bloggers, the Court of Appeals heard arguments that the District’s anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuits against public participation) law requires dismissal of the suit because Breitbart’s posting of the edited video was an opinion. Opinions are not actionable, although news stories might be. This is also an important test of the viability of the District’s anti-SLAPP law as to whether a local District law can be applied in a federal case.

Sherrod’s 2011 lawsuit claims she was damaged by having her “integrity, impartiality and motivations questioned, making it difficult (if not impossible) for her to continue her life’s work assisting poor farmers in rural areas” even though she was invited to return to the department. The edited video was released in 2010 during the tense and volatile disagreements between the NAACP and the newly rising Tea Party movement in their characterizations of race relations in the United States.

Posted in Civil Litigation, Personal Injury