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Boxcar Development Corp., et al. v. New World Communications of Atlanta, Inc., et al.

A Georgia state trial court granted the motion to dismiss filed by the defendants Fox 5 News of Atlanta and Fox News Network in a defamation claim stemming from news reports that the Georgia Secretary of State was investigating the plaintiffs for potential securities law violations.

The plaintiffs filed suit for defamation, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress after Fox News 5 in Atlanta broadcast a series of reports about the plaintiffs who were being investigated by the state. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under the state’s anti-SLAPP statute and argued that the plaintiffs failed to file verifications with their complaint as required by Georgia law.

As described by the court, the “purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute . . . is to reaffirm the importance of protecting First Amendment speakers from the ill effects of meritless litigation by ensuring that the exercise of free speech rights will ‘not be chilled through the abuse of the judicial process.’” The statute provides an early disposition mechanism for First Amendment cases, and, according to the court, “two of the statute's most important elements are the provisions requiring detailed verifications by plaintiffs and their counsel and an accelerated hearing on a motion to dismiss.”

The court turned to the question of whether the defendants’ news report fell within the anti-SLAPP statute and held that a “defendant who comments upon and reports about potential illegal or wrongful conduct or activity that is made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a government entity has engaged in an ‘act’ under Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute” and the court held the news report is of public interest because “[b]y its very nature, an investigative news report is a medium that seeks to influence the public or State government.”

Having determined that the defendants’ actions fell within the anti-SLAPP statute and that the plaintiffs failed to comply with the procedural requirements by failing to produce the necessary verifications, the court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claims with prejudice.