Another Lawsuit Threat Raises the Question: Why Don't We Have a Federal Anti-SLAPP Law Yet?
Another innocent customer unfortunately has been sued for defamation, simply for leaving a negative review of a company on eBay. The Ohio-based company, Med Express, had sent a customer in South Carolina a package that required additional postage to be paid. She chose to express her dissatisfaction with the service on eBay's seller feedback. Med Express apologized, offered reimbursement, and asked her to revise her review; when she wouldn't, they decided to sue.
The customer's truthful review is, by definition, not defamation—yet definitions and truth tend not to matter in this sort of lawsuit, known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP. Recipients of negative opinions sometimes try curbing free speech by threatening expensive and inconvenient defamation lawsuits, forcing targets into settling—and into silence. (Med Express also tried suing eBay, though the auction site is relieved from liability over its users actions in this case thanks to CDA 230.)
As Public Citizen's Paul Alan Levy notes in his analysis of this case:
If Ohio had an anti-SLAPP statute, a lawsuit like this would never be filed, and if it was filed, it would be quickly dispatched because the certainty of an attorney fee award in response to a special motion to strike would give local lawyers an incentive to represent the customer on a strictly contingent fee basis.
In other words, cases like this reinforce the need for strong anti-SLAPP laws. These laws provide remedies that allow innocent free speakers to quickly shoot down these frivolous lawsuits without having to worry about legal fees.
Currently 28 states have anti-SLAPP laws, and that isn't enough. Free speech should never be threatened by deep pockets. EFF is pushing Congress to support a strong federal anti-SLAPP bill, which would grant strong protections to targets of these absurd lawsuits across the nation, and you can push Congress too.