The United States Law Week

Joy Reid Must Defend Against Defamation Claims, Second Cir. Says

July 15, 2020, 3:58 PM

California’s anti-SLAPP statute isn’t applicable in federal court because its use increases a plaintiff’s burden to overcome pretrial dismissal beyond what the federal rules of civil procedure require, the Second Circuit said Wednesday as a matter of first impression.

The decision revives defamation claims against MSNBC news anchor Joy Reid arising out of the debate over California’s 2017 sanctuary state law.

A critic of the law, Roslyn La Liberte, was photographed at a 2018 city council meeting in Simi Valley, Calif., speaking with a young Hispanic man, and the photograph went viral because it appeared that she was shouting angrily at him.

Reid posted the photo to her social media feed with captions stating that La Liberte had called the teenager a “dirty Mexican” and comparing the interaction to photographs snapped during the unrest of school desegregation in the 1950s, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit said.

But the teenager pushed back in an interview, saying his conversation with La Liberte was civil and that she hadn’t used any racial slurs, the court said.

La Liberte sued Reid for defamation, claiming that she had been flooded with harassment and messages urging her to commit suicide.

Reid moved to strike La Liberte’s claims under California’s Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation law. Because La Liberte couldn’t establish a probability she would prevail on her claims, the trial court dismissed her lawsuit.

But Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12 and 56 don’t require plaintiffs to provide proof of probability of success on the merits to avoid pretrial dismissal of their claims, the court said.

“Therefore, California’s special motion requires the plaintiff to make a showing that the Federal Rules do not require,” the court said.

Wednesday’s decision aligns in a circuit split with the Second Circuit with the Fifth, Eleventh, and D.C. circuits, which have also ruled that state anti-SLAPP laws aren’t applicable in federal court, according to the court’s opinion.

The First and Ninth circuits have reached the opposite conclusion, the court said, noting that its “sister circuits are split” on whether the state and federal rules can co-exist.

Reid also isn’t immune from suit under the Communications Decency Act because she wrote the allegedly defamatory posts herself, the court said. Only those who publish information from another content provider are protected by the CDA, the court said.

The Second Circuit vacated the trial court’s decision to dismiss La Liberte’s claims and sent the matter back for further proceedings.

Judge Dennis G. Jacobs wrote the opinion, which Judges Amalya L. Kearse and Jose A. Cabranes joined.

Wade, Grunberg & Wilson LLC represented La Liberte. Watchel Missry LLP represented Reid.

The case is La Liberte v. Reid, 2d Cir., No. 19-03574, 7/15/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Porter Wells in Washington at pwells@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Peggy Aulino at maulino@bloomberglaw.com

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