Hinkle Achieves Anti-SLAPP Victory in Talk Radio Libel Case
Stoel Rives attorney Charlie Hinkle recently scored a significant victory in a libel case on appeal at the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals (Gardner v. Martino). At issue were comments by nationally syndicated radio host Tom Martino directed at an Oregon-based watercraft retailer. Martino berated the retailer for failing to repair a defective watercraft purchased by a caller to his show, and urged his listeners not to purchase products from the store. The retailer then sued for defamation and a series of related torts. Hinkle represented Martino and Westwood One Inc. (the provider of the broadcast) in the litigation.
The trial court dismissed the case pursuant to Oregon's anti-SLAPP law. Under the law, a defendant can file a motion at the outset of a lawsuit to strike a complaint where the complaint arises from conduct that falls within the rights of petition or free speech. The trial court found that Martino's statements were free speech within the anti-SLAPP statute definition, and constituted non-actionable opinion. In a decision published April 24, 2009, the Ninth Circuit affirmed. Under the mandatory attorney fee provision of the anti-SLAPP statute, Hinkle's clients were awarded substantial attorney fees against the retailer.
Hinkle called the ruling a "a strong vindication of free-speech principles on talk radio." He said reasonable listeners would have understood that Martino was giving an "off-the-cuff opinion, not an observation of perjury."
Media coverage: San Francisco Chronicle and Metropolitan News
Read the opinion (PDF)