Groundhog Day Husky SLAPP suit
Siouxsie’s First Legal Canon – The law abhors a Groundhog’s Day (see, e.g., double jeopardy, collateral estoppel, res judicata, and vexatious litigants’ statutes).
Simple Justice reports that Christopher Comins has sued blogger and University of Florida student Matthew VanVoorhis AGAIN. For those unfamiliar, in June 2008, Matthew Van Voorhis reported on a dog shooting — Mr. Comins shot two Siberian Huskies while onlookers begged him to stop.
Mr. Van Voorhis like many others reporting on the incident included a YouTube video of the shooting.
As TechDirt notes, “despite the video, Comins ended up being acquitted of the shooting, with the judge claiming that shooting a couple dogs at extremely close range was not torturing an animal. [Though] it seems like that’s the kind of question a jury should answer, rather than a judge.”
Even though the video of the shooting had already gone viral and even though Fox and NBC had already covered the story, Comins decided to sue Van Voorhis for criticizing the shooting of the dogs on Van Voorhis’s blog.
Back in July, a Florida court granted summary judgment in favor of blogger Van Voorhis. The Florida court held that because Comins failed to comply with Florida law governing libel and slander actions, the lawsuit was barred. The relevant Florida statute states:
Before any civil action is brought for publication or broadcast, in a newspaper, periodical, or other medium, of a libel or slander, the plaintiff shall, at least 5 days before instituting such action, serve notice in writing on the defendant, specifying the article or broadcast and the statements therein which he or she alleges to be false and defamatory.
The purpose for the statutory-required pre-suit notice is so that the defendant has a chance to correct or retract statements and to provide an opportunity to settle the case without going through expensive litigation.
But Comins didn’t bother do this, and so the case was tossed out.
Now Comins is trying to do an end-run around the pre-suit notice requirement by serving notice on Van Voorhis more than three years after the blog post first went up. Comins can no longer sue on the first set of allegedly defamatory statements. So to try to get around this problem, Comins has simply picked more recent statements made by Van Voorhis. Comins now sues VanVoohis mostly for statements made by Van Voorhis in response to and after being sued for defamation the first time.
Something seems seriously wrong with this. For starters, Comins’ tactic totally guts the whole purpose and spirit of the pre-notice statute. Not to mention, there seems something manifestly unfair about whole thing — A plaintiff who was not able to prevail on the original defamation action, now trying to bring a second defamation action against the same person based on the person’s response to being sued in the first defamation lawsuit.
This video is what Huskies sound like when they are annoyed. I’d like to echo them.
If you are going to sue someone, follow the proper procedures and do it once. If you don’t believe you need to follow those procedures, then file the proper appeal or motion. The approach taken here is waste of everyone’s time and most importantly of judicial resources.
A copy of the complaint is here (via Simple Justice).