Stormy Daniels’ defamation claim against the President of the United States was dismissed Monday by a federal judge who granted the President’s Anti-SLAPP motion. What does that mean, and does SC have an anti-SLAPP law?
Lawsuits for defamation, also called slander or libel, are fraught with difficulties. Someone insults you publicly and you can’t just let it go. Should you sue them? Problems that you may run into include:
- Is there insurance to cover a defamation claim, and, if not, does the individual have resources to pay a judgment?
- Are you a “public figure?” If so, you will have to prove “actual malice” in your lawsuit.
- Were the statements intentional, false, and did they harm you?
- Did you suffer actual damages – damage to reputation, lost clients or other business, or emotional trauma? Although “general damages” are available, “actual damages” will have an impact on the amount of damages that you can recover.
Most importantly, will your lawsuit be considered a “SLAPP” that will result in you paying the defendant’s attorney fees when the court grants an “anti-SLAPP” motion?
Anti-SLAPP laws are passed by statute on a state-by-state basis – does SC have an anti-SLAPP law?
What is an Anti-SLAPP Motion?
Stormy Daniels’ defamation claim was dismissed under Texas’ anti-SLAPP laws, and she was ordered to pay the President’s legal fees that were incurred defending that claim (she had other claims that were not dismissed).
To understand what an anti-SLAPP motion is, first we must look at what is a SLAPP?
What is a SLAPP?
SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”
It’s a frivolous lawsuit, usually for defamation, that is filed for the purpose of harassing the defendant and forcing them to spend legal fees defending the claim. Although it can apply to anyone, it is of concern to journalists and bloggers – baseless defamation claims have a “chilling effect” on public discourse, and many journalists and “small” bloggers do not have the resources to defend against these types of lawsuits.
So, what can they do?
What is an Anti-SLAPP Motion?
In states where it is available, an anti-SLAPP motion allows the defendant to:
- Have the Court hear their motion to dismiss early in the litigation, so they are not forced to defend baseless defamation claims; and
- Force the Plaintiff to pay their attorney fees, which prevents SLAPP lawsuits from “destroying” journalists, bloggers, or other SLAPP targets who would not otherwise be able to afford to defend the claim.
Where is an anti-SLAPP motion available?
What State’s Law Applies?
If your state does not have an anti-SLAPP law, it is probably not available to you.
The Stormy Daniels case, however, illustrates how “choice of law” can affect your lawsuit, especially if the defamation claims “cross state lines.” When the alleged defamation occurred on the internet – a website, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media – which state’s laws apply?
Daniels filed her lawsuit in New York. The case was then transferred to a federal court in California. The California Court then determined that Texas law applies because Daniels is a Texas resident…
Does SC Have an Anti-SLAPP Law?
Although, as in the Daniels case, “choice of law” provisions may require the court to follow another state’s laws, anti-SLAPP motions are not going to be available in most cases filed in SC state or federal courts.
So, what can you do if you are hit with a SLAPP defamation lawsuit in SC?
Motion to Dismiss
In South Carolina, and other jurisdictions that do not have anti-SLAPP laws, there are already laws in place that protect against frivolous litigation.
A defamation defendant can immediately file a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim – if the court determines that the defamation claim as alleged in the Complaint is not valid, the Court can dismiss the lawsuit early in the case.
Motion for Summary Judgment
If motions to dismiss are not successful, there is still the opportunity to have the case dismissed on a “motion for summary judgment” before the case goes to trial.
Once the parties have disclosed the evidence that they intend to present at trial, either side can ask the court for summary judgment – taking the evidence “in the light most favorable to the moving party,” is there a valid claim that could succeed at trial?
If not, the case is dismissed by the court before the trial happens.
Motion for Sanctions – Frivolous Claims
Does SC need an anti-SLAPP law?
Although there are protections in place, including the possibility of sanctions for frivolous claims, SC courts rarely impose sanctions and they may not be an effective deterrent for defamation claims that can bankrupt a small-time blogger or journalist.
That said, SC Code Section 15-36-10 provides for sanctions against the attorney, party, or pro-se litigant when they file a frivolous lawsuit or make a frivolous claim in a lawsuit:
The attorney or pro-se litigant’s signature on the Complaint or other filings certifies to the court that:
(a) the person has read the document;
(b) a reasonable attorney in the same circumstances would believe that under the facts his claim or defense may be warranted under the existing law or, if his claim or defense is not warranted under the existing law, a good faith argument exists for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law;
(c) a reasonable attorney in the same circumstances would believe that his procurement, initiation, continuation, or defense of a civil cause is not intended merely to harass or injure the other party; and
(d) a reasonable attorney in the same circumstances would believe his claim or defense is not frivolous, interposed for delay, or brought for any purpose other than securing proper discovery, joinder of parties, or adjudication of the claim or defense upon which the proceedings are based.
If the court determines, following a motion to dismiss, motion for summary judgment, or jury verdict, that the lawsuit was frivolous, brought for an improper purpose, or unsupported by the facts, the court can then sanction the attorney, party, or pro-se litigant.
Sanctions can include:
- Attorney fees and costs of the litigation;
- A fine paid to the court; and
- An injunction to prevent future similar conduct.
In addition to the sanctions, the court is required to report the attorney to the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for ethical violations…
Myrtle Beach, SC Defamation Lawyers
The SC personal injury lawyers at Coastal Law are prepared to sue on behalf of our clients who have suffered damage from defamation and to defend against frivolous defamation claims.
Call the Myrtle Beach defamation lawyers at Coastal Law today at (843) 488-5000 or schedule an appointment through our website to speak to an attorney today.