USA - The Associate Judge of the Superior Court of the District of Columbia Civil Division has quashed charges levied against Liberian radio talk show host Henry Costa.
The judge’s decision followed a motion to dismiss filed by Eric Menhart, legal Counsel representing Costa.
The case grew from a complaint to the court via Public Works Minister Gyude Moore on June 2, 2016.
He complained that on December 24, 2015, Costa falsely stated that he (Moore) had “an interest” in awarding a construction contract award to a Chinese company illegally and described him as corrupt.
Mr. Moore denied the accusations, claiming that the contracts were awarded as the law mandates, to a “responsive bidder offering the lowest price.”
The Public Works Minister told the U.S. Court that Costa defamed him during his radio show on December 30, 2015, by saying “Gyude Moore is bought” and that - “He’s in people’s pocket.
He didn’t award those contracts for nothing. No, I believe Gyude got a kickball. That is what I believe now. It didn’t happen for nothing.”
He contended those three statements “impugned his character, honesty, and integrity” and were “completely false.”
Moore further argued through his complaint that Costa falsely implied he received a car in exchange for awarding a public contract by broadcasting the following in January 2016: “We understand Gyude was gifted with that vehicle.
It was Christmas. Wow! Imagine what you have to do for someone to give you that gift, as expensive, worth $80, 90,000. He must have given them a contract that is worth $3, 4, 5 million!”
According to the complaint, a basic investigation would have revealed Plaintiff (Moore) bought a 2011 Nissan Patrol SUV for US$33,000 from a local construction company.
On July 7, 2016, Costa filed the Special Motion to Dismiss. Moore filed an opposition to Costa’s Special Motion to Dismiss (“the Opposition”) on July 29, 2016.
The Associate Judge stated the District of Columbia Anti SLAPP Act. DC code §§ 16-5501-05. Similar to anti-SLAPP statutes enacted in nearly 30 states, the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act protects speakers against “strategic lawsuits against public for participation” (“SLAPPs”), which are lawsuits “filed by one side of a political or public policy debate aimed to punish or prevent the expression of opposing points of view.”
Judge Wellner cited Doe No. 1 v. Burke, 91 A.3d 1031, 1033 (D.C. 2014). The D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act’s Special Motion to Dismiss provision allows defendants to quickly resolve lawsuits filed “as a weapon to chill or silence speech” without the usual burden, costs, and delays of litigation.; see also Boley v. Atl. Monthly Group, 950 F. Supp. 2d 249, 255 (D.D.C. 2013) (applying D.C. law).
“A special motion to Dismiss under the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act is resolved in a two-step process. First, a moving party must “make a prima facie showing that the claim at issue arises from an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest.” D.C. Code § 16-5502 (b).
Second, if the moving party makes such a showing, the motion “shall be granted unless the non-moving party demonstrates that the claim is likely to succeed on the merits,” he stated.
Analyzing the motion the Associate Judge of D.C said that the Costa’s lawyer argued the suit as issued arises from an act in furtherance of his right of advocacy on issues of public interest.
The Act defines an “act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest” to include: “Any written or oral statement made: (I) In connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law; or (ii) In a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; or (B) Any other expression or expressive conduct that involves petitioning the government or communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest.
The court dismissed the case in favor of Costa. However, Moore is entitled to an appeal.