Saturday, September 03, 2011

Ridiculed, an N.F.L. Owner Goes to Court

Dan Snyder sues paper that criticized him
Citizen Media Law Project

On November 19, 2010, the Washington City Paper published "The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder." The article levied a wide array of complaints about Snyder, owner of the Washington Redskins NFL franchise since 1999. The complaints largely concerned his management of the team, as well as his control of several other business ventures.

On November 24, 2010, Washington Redskins General Counsel David Donovan wrote a letter on behalf of Dan Snyder to Atalaya Capital Management, an investment company that, according to the letter, purchased the City Paper out of bankruptcy in 2009. The letter alleges that the City Paper article, and its inclusion of a photograph of Snyder with drawn-in devil horns, goatee, and uni-brow, were anti-Semitic and that the allegations made regarding Snyder and his wife in the article were false and defamatory. The letter also suggests that the statements regarding Snyder may have been published at the direction of Atalaya Capital, which competes with RedZone Capital (an entity which Snyder co-founded).

On December 7, 2010, attorneys for Atalaya Capital responded to Snyder's letter, rejecting the assertion that Atalaya had control over the content of Washington City Paper, disputing the factual allegations made in the letter, and asserting City Paper's First Amendment right to criticize Snyder under Hustler Magazine v. Falwell.

On February 2, 2011, Snyder filed suit in the New York Supreme Court for New York County against Atalaya Capital, its portfolio company Creative Loafing, Inc., and 10 "John Doe" defendants. Snyder alleged that four statements made in the article were defamatory, and sought relief in excess of $2 million

On April 26, 2011, Snyder discontinued his action in New York and filed a second the complaint in the Superior Court of the District of Columbia, this time against Creative Loafing, Inc., Washington City Paper, and Dave McKenna, the author of the article.

Using DC's recently enacted anti-SLAPP law, the defendants brought a special motion to dismiss on June 17, 2011. The defendants argue that D.C. Code § 16-5502 protects the statements as they are "an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest" and that Snyder will not be "likely to succeed on the merits" of his claims.

According to the Blog of LegalTimes, Snyder filed a memorandum in opposition to the motion to dismiss on August 1, 2011, in which he argues that the anti-SLAPP law in question is in violation of the Home Rule Act, the federal law which delegates some congressional control of the District of Columbia to the DC local government. On August 30, 2011, the District of Columbia intervened in the case for the limited purpose of defending the validity of the anti-SLAPP law.

Oral argument for the motion to dismiss is currently scheduled for October 14, 2011.

Related Links:

John Sharkey, Dan Snyder Gets a Taste of D.C.'s New Anti-SLAPP Law, CMLP Blog, June 17, 2011.

Dan Snyder, Why I am suing Washington City Paper, Washington Post, April 25, 2011.

Michael Schaffer, Bully Pulpit: Why Dan Snyder's Lawsuit Matters, Washington City Paper, Feb. 11, 2011.

Rep. Steve Cohen, Protect Free Speech by Combating SLAPPs, Roll Call, May 23, 2011.

Erik Wemple, Daniel Snyder lawsuit: No settlement in sight, TBD, April 26, 2011.

David Carr, Ridiculed, an N.F.L. Owner Goes to Court, New York Times, Feb. 6, 2011.

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