In a win for free speech, courts used antiSLAPP law to slap a plaintiff for attempting to chill Avvo’s right for free speech. The lawsuit, which goes back year to my own days at Avvo, was filed by a Florida based attorney claiming punitive and exemplary damages as well as attorneys fees on four seperate claims against Avvo.
Avvo argued that this was an attempt by the attorney to chill free speech and access to the information brought forth by the company on the website.
The case was quickly transferred to Washington state and as the slow wheels of justice turned, the courts granted a motion to dismiss. The kicker, however, is that under anti-SLAPP, the court can automatically impose a statutory damage award of $10,000 AND may award the defendants attorneys’ fees be paid by the plaintiff or the plaintiff’s attorneys. In this case the plaintiff was stuck with a $10,000 penalty and almost $50,000 in attorneys fees.
Essentially, we now have a precedent where the threat of a nuisance lawsuit brought specifically to silence an online voice now includes a significant financial risk for the plaintiff. The loser pays and the public wins.