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Denial of an anti-Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP) motion resolves a question separate from the merits in that it merely finds that such merits may exist, with-out evaluating whether the plaintiff's claim will succeed. The purpose of an anti-SLAPP motion is to determine whether the defendant is being forced to defend against a meritless claim. The anti-SLAPP issue therefore exists separately from the merits of the defamation claim itself.
Robert Smith, a handyman working for Ellen Batzel, sent an e-mail message to the Museum Security Network (the Network), alleging that paintings owned by Batzel were looted during WWII and were the rightful legacy of the Jewish people. Ton Cremers, the sole operator of the Network, received Smith’s e-mail message, and published the same on the Network listserv. The Network’s website and listserv mailings were being read by hundreds of museum security officials, insurance investigators, and law enforcement personnel around the world, who were using the information in the Network posting to track down stolen art. Batzel discovered the message several months after its initial posting and complained to Cremers about the message. Cremers then contacted Smith via e-mail to request additional information about Smith's allegations. Smith continued to insist on the truth of his statements. Batzel subsequently filed the present lawsuit against Smith, Cremers, the Netherlands Museum Association, and Mosler, Inc. (Mosler) in federal court in Los Angeles, California to redress her claimed reputational injuries. Cremers countered with two motions: (i) a motion to strike under the California anti-Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP) statute, Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16, alleging that Batzel’s suit was meritless and that the complaint was filed in an attempt to interfere with his First Amendment rights, and (ii) a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction. The court denied both motions, declining to extend the legislative grant of immunity pursuant to 47 U.S.C.S. § 230(c) to Cremers and the Network and holding that the Network was not "an internet service provider" and therefore was not covered by the statute. The court further granted summary judgment in favor of Mosler. In her complaint, Betzel alleged that Mosler was vicariously liable for her reputational injuries because Cremers was acting as Mosler’s agent. The district court ruled that, under California law, Cremers was not an agent of Mosler and Mosler could not be vicariously liable. Cremers appealed the denial of his motions. Batzel appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Mosler.
The court disagreed with the findings of the district court, finding instead that Cremers and the Network were covered by 47 U.S.C.S. § 230(c). However, the court held that there was an issue of fact as to whether Cremers could have reasonably concluded that, because the e-mail arrived via a different e-mail address, it was not provided to him for possible posting on the listserv. Lastly, the court held that because there was no agency relationship between Cremers and Mosler, the latter could not be held liable. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's order denying Cremers’ anti-SLAPP motion and remanded to the district court for further proceedings while the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Mosler was affirmed.