Appeal May Decide If D.C.'s Anti-SLAPP Law Applies to Fed Court

By Jenny Tsay, Esq. on March 06, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

An appeal has been filed with the D.C. Circuit that may resolve whether D.C.'s anti-SLAPP statute can be used in federal court.

Yassar Abbas, a son of the Palestinian president, is appealing the D.C. District Court's dismissal of a libel suit he brought against the Foreign Policy Group and a Washington Post writer that was decided by applying D.C.'s anti-SLAPP statute.

Abbas' recently filed opening brief discusses several reasons why the statute was inappropriately used by the D.C. District Court.

Lower Court Decision

Anti-SLAPP cases usually involve high-profile people and matters of public concern. According to the Digital Media Law Project, D.C.'s Anti-SLAPP Act applies to lawsuits based on written or oral statements that discuss:

  • Issues being considered by the government.
  • Governmental or official proceedings.
  • Issues of public interest made in a public forum.

In Abbas' lawsuit in the district court, he sued a division of The Washington Post and one of its writers for libel when the newspaper suggested that he was improperly benefiting financially from his father's political standing.

The district court opined that D.C.'s anti-SLAPP statute can be used to the federal court because other circuits have used similar statutes and that other federal judges in D.C. have used it. After applying the law, the district court dismissed the complaint.

Abbas' Arguments

Now that Abbas' lawsuit is on appeal in the D.C. Circuit, his opening brief propounds several reasons for why the district court was wrong to use the local statute in federal court.

In the brief, Abbas argues that Rule 12(b)(6) and 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure are the standards to be used by the federal courts when deciding whether or not to dismiss a case. However, D.C.'s anti-SLAPP allows defendants to file a special motion to dismiss which has a different standard than in the FRCP.

Abbas also argues that using the anti-SLAPP law's standard of review denies him of his Seventh Amendment right to a jury trial because a judge is now the one who rules on the disputed issues of facts.

If the D.C. Circuit rules that the local anti-SLAPP statute shouldn't be applied in federal cases, it could have a chilling effect on news reporting in the area.

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