Free Speech

SLAPP Suits – Chilling Free Speech through the Courts

05.12.14

Update 05.12.14:

The ACLU of Ohio works to protect speech on a variety of fronts. While this often means defending an individual against the government, the ACLU has also become involved in SLAPP suits, or strategic litigation against public participation. In these cases, corporations or individuals sue a member of the public, often alleging they were defamed, in order to intimidate the defendant into keeping quiet.

In one case, Eric Deters v. James Jay Schifrin, Cincinnati-area attorney Eric Deters is suing the publisher of The Whistleblower, an electronic newsletter that reports on Cincinnati area politics. Deters has filed similar lawsuits against several public officials who questioned his legal knowledge. In October 2011, the ACLU announced that Deters and Schifrin agreed to a settlement. Both parties withdrew their lawsuits, and Schifrin agreed to include the details of the incident, as well as a response from Deters, in a special edition of the Whistleblower.

The ACLU also took up another case, Habeeb v. Smith, where two police officers sued a former state representative for her negative comments after they shot and killed a teenager.

Most recently, the ACLU successfully defeated a classic SLAPP suit in Robert E. Murray, et al. v. The Huffington Post.com, Inc. In September 2013, Mike Stark, a journalist and Huffington Post contributor, wrote an article titled “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign,” which was published by the Huffington Post. The article was highly critical of Murray Energy Corporation, and its owner, Robert E. Murray.  In response to this article, Mr. Murray initiated a SLAPP suit alleging defamation, false light and invasion of privacy against the Huffington Post and Mr. Stark. On November 27, 2013, we filed a motion to dismiss, and on May 12, 2014, our motion was upheld and the lawsuit was dismissed.

Check out our legal docket for more information about these and other free speech cases.