Law School Case Brief
Four Navy Seals & Jane Doe v. AP - 413 F. Supp. 2d 1136 (S.D. Cal. 2005)
California's Anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (Anti-SLAPP) statute, Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16, encourages continued participation in matters of public interest and allows defendants to file a special motion to strike a cause of action based upon an act in furtherance of the right to free speech. Once a defendant establishes that the suit arises out of an exercise of free speech, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to present admissible evidence showing a probability of prevailing on the privacy claims by stating and substantiating a legally sufficient claim. A defendant who files a successful Anti-SLAPP motion to strike is entitled to attorneys' fees under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. 425.16(c). Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16(b), (c) applies in federal courts.
The complaint alleged that defendants invaded plaintiffs' privacy rights by discovering photos and widely distributing them along with a news story suggesting that some Navy SEALs engaged in abuse of Iraqi prisoners. Plaintiffs sought damages and injunctive relief. The court held that plaintiffs failed to state a claim for relief as to their three counts for invasion of privacy. Because plaintiffs failed to meet their burden of establishing a probability of prevailing on the claims, defendants were entitled to strike the privacy counts under Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16, California's anti-SLAPP statute. The fatal defects in the privacy claims included the absence of an offensive or egregious invasion of privacy and plaintiffs' lack of a reasonable expectation of privacy in the photographs that the wife posted on her publicly-accessible website. Locating photographs on the internet and distributing them along with an article addressing a newsworthy issue of public concern was not offensive behavior. As to the copyright claim, plaintiffs failed to identify which works were infringed and when the works were registered.
Was there an invasion of privacy and copyright infringement?
The court granted defendants' motion to dismiss and also granted defendants' motion to strike the three claims for invasion of privacy rights. The court granted defendants' implied motion to compel a more definite statement of the copyright infringement claim. The court directed plaintiffs to file an amended complaint within 30 days to clarify the allegations concerning the allegedly copyrighted photographs.
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