Monday, February 1, 2010

SJC Rules Anti-SLAPP Statute Inapplicable to Reporters

THE SLAPImage by via Flickr
Massachusetts' anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, M.G.L. c. 231, sec. 59H, does not protect reporters, ruled the Supreme Judicial Court today in Fustolo v. Hollander [SJC-10485].

Steven Fustolo, a real estate developer who owns several properties in Boston's historic North End, claims he was defamed by a series of articles in the Regional Review written by former reporter Fredda Hollander, a community activist, who along with spouse William Lee, is active in the North End Waterfront Residents' Association.  Hollander responded to Fustolo's allegations that she stirred public sentiment against him in the series of articles that forced him to scuttle building projects by filing a motion to dismiss the defamation suit pursuant to M.G.L. c. 231, sec. 59H, which states in part: "In any case in which a party asserts that the civil claims...against said party are based on said party's exercise of its right of petition under the constitution of the United States or of the commonwealth, said party may bring a special motion to dismiss."

SJC Justice Margot Botsford's opinion noted that the anti-SLAPP statute applies only to citizens' rights to petition government for redress of a perceived grievance, and does not encompass articles about the issue. Journalists are not defenseless, the SJC pointed out, citing the seminal libel case, New York Times v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), which affords First Amendment protection to reporters against frivolous suits.
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  1. Reporters Against Frivolous Suits? Do they organize protests? Are they for or against ties? Is a corduroy suit considered frivolous? It's very warm.

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