Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Glorious Victory for the Free Press...

Hupp v. Freedom Communications, No. E057390 (D4d2 Nov. 7 2013)

An apparently vexatious litigant got into some kind of a flame war with another reader on the comment section to an article on municipal pensions posted on the OC Register’s website. When the Register refused to remove the other reader’s comments, Mr. Litigant sued the Register (as litigants tend to do) for violations of its user agreement. The Register filed a SLAPP motion, which the trial court granted. Mr. Litigant appealed arguing, among other things, that he had never been properly served with the motion. The court of appeal affirmed.

As to the SLAPP motion, the court held that maintaining a forum for discussion of issues of public interest is a “quintessential way to facilitate” free speech rights, and is thus within the ambit of the SLAPP statute as conduct in furtherance of free speech in connection with a public issue under Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16(e)(4). Moving to the merits, the court noted that the Communications Decency Act, 47 U.S.C. § 230, shields distributors of Internet content from liability for their publication of third-party statements. Since there was no probability of Mr. Litigant prevailing on his claim, the SLAPP motion was properly granted.

Mr. Litigant’s argument about service was also without merit. Even if, as he claimed, he was not properly served with the motion when it was filed, he admitted that he was subsequently served via FedEx more than nine court days before the motion was heard. So he had adequate actual notice to defend against the motion.


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