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Batzel v. Smith

United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit

November 4, 2002, Argued and Submitted, Pasadena, California ; June 24, 2003, Filed

No. 01-56380, No. 01-56556

Opinion

BERZON, Circuit Judge:

There is no reason inherent in the technological features of cyberspace why First Amendment and defamation law should apply differently in cyberspace than in the brick and mortar world. Congress, however, has chosen for policy reasons to immunize from liability for defamatory or obscene speech "providers and users of interactive computer services" when the defamatory or obscene material is "provided" by someone else. This case presents the question whether and, if so, under what circumstances a moderator of a listserv and operator of a website who posts an allegedly defamatory e-mail authored by a third party can be held liable for doing so. The case also presents a novel procedural question -- whether the denial of an Anti-SLAPP suit filed pursuant to California law can be appealed prior to a final judgment in the underlying case. After recounting the unusual tale underlying this case, we address each of these questions in turn.

In the summer of [**3]  1999, sometime-handyman Robert Smith was working for Ellen Batzel, an attorney licensed to practice in California and North Carolina, at Batzel's house in the North Carolina mountains. Smith recounted that while he was repairing Batzel's truck, Batzel told him that she was "the granddaughter of  [*1021]  one of Adolf Hitler's right-hand men." Smith also maintained that as he was painting the walls of Batzel's sitting room he overheard Batzel tell her roommate that she was related to Nazi politician Heinrich Himmler. According to Smith, Batzel told him on another occasion that some of the paintings hanging in her house were inherited. To Smith, these paintings looked old and European.

After assembling these clues, Smith used a computer to look for websites concerning stolen art work and was directed by a search engine to the Museum Security Network ("the Network") website. He thereupon sent the following e-mail message to the Network:

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333 F.3d 1018 *; 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 12736 **; 2003 Cal. Daily Op. Service 5465

ELLEN L. BATZEL, a citizen of the State of California, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. ROBERT SMITH, a citizen of the State of North Carolina; NETHERLANDS MUSEUMS ASSOCIATION, an entity of unknown form; MOSLER, INC., a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Ohio, Defendants, and, TON CREMERS, a citizen or subject of the Netherlands, Defendant-Appellant. ELLEN L. BATZEL, a citizen of the State of California, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. ROBERT SMITH, a citizen of the State of North Carolina; NETHERLANDS MUSEUMS ASSOCIATION, an entity of unknown form; TON CREMERS, a citizen or subject of the Netherlands; MOSLER, INC., a Delaware corporation with its principal place of business in Ohio, Defendants-Appellees.

Subsequent History: Rehearing denied by, Rehearing, en banc, denied by  Batzel v. Smith, 351 F.3d 904, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 24304 (9th Cir., 2003)

US Supreme Court certiorari denied by  Batzel v. Smith, 541 U.S. 1085, 159 L. Ed. 2d 246, 124 S. Ct. 2812, 2004 U.S. LEXIS 4045 (2004)

Summary judgment granted by  Batzel v. Smith, 372 F. Supp. 2d 546, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 14896 (C.D. Cal., 2005)

Prior History: Appeal from the United States District Court for the Central District of California. D.C. No. CV-00-09590-SVW. D.C. No. CV-00-09590-SVW. Stephen V. Wilson, District Judge, Presiding.

 Batzel v. Smith, 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11921 (C.D. Cal., July 25, 2001)

Disposition: The decision of the district court was vacated in part, affirmed in part and remanded for further proceedings.

CORE TERMS

Internet, immunity, e-mail, provider, interactive, users, computer service, Network, message, anti-SLAPP, posted, listserv, defamatory, website, publisher, disseminate, offensive, bulletin board, distributed, service provider, select, libel, information provided, communications, defamation, district court, subscribers, obscene, lawsuits, purposes

Civil Procedure, Appeals, Reviewability of Lower Court Decisions, General Overview, Appellate Jurisdiction, Interlocutory Orders, Defenses, Demurrers & Objections, Motions to Strike, Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, Defamation, Scope, Torts, Elements, Final Judgment Rule, Collateral Order Doctrine, Remedies, Costs & Attorney Fees, Attorney Fees & Expenses, Basis of Recovery, Statutory Awards, Preliminary Considerations, Federal & State Interrelationships, Erie Doctrine, Governments, State & Territorial Governments, Claims By & Against, Business & Corporate Compliance, Computer & Internet Law, Content Regulation, Communications Decency Act, Communications Law, Federal Acts, Telecommunications Act, Rules & Regulations, Regulated Entities, Internet Services, Civil Actions, Service Provider Liability, Computer & Internet Law, Internet Business, Internet & Online Services, Electronic Media, First Amendment Protections, Service Types, Intentional Torts, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Summary Judgment Review, Standards of Review, Summary Judgment, Entitlement as Matter of Law, Business & Corporate Law, Agency Relationships, Duties & Liabilities, Agents Distinguished, Fiduciaries, Establishment, Manifestation by Principal, Right to Control by Principal, Fiduciaries, Ratification, Illegal Acts, Negligent Acts of Agents, Liability of Principals, Liabilities