From the land of Wayne Newton and Brittney Spears comes news of an interesting lawsuit implicating the Nevada anti-SLAPP statute. Techdirt.com explains that the lawsuit, Opinion Corporation d/b/a PissedConsumer.com v. Nevada Corporate Headquarters, came after Nevada Corporate Headquarters twice sued Opinion Corporation, which runs the website PissedConsumer.com (which, as its name suggests, allows consumers to complain about companies).
According to the complaint, Nevada Corporate Headquarters’ first lawsuit was dismissed because of 47 U.S.C. § 230. (Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act protects websites against libel suits for otherwise defamatory comments/statements made on the website, as long as the website owner had no role in the creation of the allegedly libelous statements).
However, the complaint alleges, Nevada Corporate Headquarters then filed a nearly identical lawsuit, this time in Nevada small claims court. In January 2014, the small claims court dismissed that second action, also under Section 230. While Opinion Corporation sought recovery of its legal fees, that request was denied because legal fees are not recoverable in Nevada small claims court.
Techdirt reports that Opinion Corporation has now filed suit against Nevada Corporate Headquarters, asserting that “since it was clearly SLAPP’d, even though via a small claims court, it can now file for attorneys’ fees in state court under the state’s anti-SLAPP law.” As Techdirt explains, Opinion Corporation “argues, somewhat convincingly, that without this, Nevada Corporate Headquarters would be free to continue SLAPPing other sites in small claims court, knowing that there’s no real downside to doing so.”
It is not clear whether the scenario faced by PissedConsumer.com would be an issue in the District of Columbia. Rule 19 of the “D.C. Superior Court Rules of Procedure for the Small Claims and Conciliation Branch” provides that attorney’s fees may only be awarded where the plaintiff’s attorney shows the Court “the instrument or agreement upon which such claim is based.” But in Curry v. Sutherland, the DC Superior Court held that attorney’s fees were available to a prevailing party, although they were not grounded in “instrument or agreement,” because they were part of the statutory remedy. Presumably the same reasoning would apply in the anti-SLAPP context?
Either way, the Opinion Corporation lawsuit is an especially interesting attempt to invoke the anti-SLAPP statute to recover attorney’s fees.