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This article is based on the recent First Department decision, “Reeves v. Associated Newspapers, Ltd.” which presents the issue of what constitutes a “substantial basis in law” under the anti-SLAPP law to warrant mandatory costs and attorneys’ fees to SLAPP defendant.

May 21, 2024 at 10:00 AM
7 minute read
By Andrew Goldenberg and Adam Levy | May 21, 2024 at 10:00 AM

New York’s anti-SLAPP statute was enacted to prevent public permit holders from threatening litigation (typically by asserting defamation claims) as a means of harassing, intimidating, or punishing individuals who involved themselves in public affairs by opposing them.

The purpose of the statute is to protect the exercise of free speech, petition, and association. To ensure these protections, the anti-SLAPP law permits individual defendants to seek dismissal of complaints pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), whereby they are required to first demonstrate that the claims constitute a SLAPP suit under CPLR 3211(g).

If the defendant can make that showing, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate that the claim has a “substantial basis in law.” Id. If the plaintiff is unable to so demonstrate and the action is dismissed, the defendant is entitled to a mandatory award of attorneys’ fees.

The question that has dogged courts for years is what it means for a claim to have a “substantial basis in law”? We finally have an answer in the First Department’s recent decision, Reeves v. Associated Newspapers, Ltd., 2024 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 1922 (1st Dept. 2024).

Karl Reeves initially filed a defamation action against his estranged wife, the estranged wife’s mother, The Foundation for Child Victims of Family Court (FCVFC), and a FCVFC representative, after the FCVFC filed a series of ethics complaints on behalf of the estranged wife as part of a custody dispute claiming Reeves made death threats against his estranged wife’s family, described himself as a proud Neo Nazi, and claimed he was a drug abuser. A few months later, Reeves discontinued the action against his estranged wife and her mother.

Associated Newspaper Ltd. (ANL) subsequently published a story about Reeves titled “Seriously, I’ll kill both of them: NY socialite and actress is locked in vicious custody battle with ‘racist ketamine-snorting millionaire’ CEO husband after he accused her of Pornhub fame and threatened to kill her parents.”

In response, Reeves, along with his affiliate entities, filed a defamation action against ANL and other defendants, identifying several purported defamatory statements published by ANL.

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