Thursday, August 17, 2017

Erie, Federal Courts & the Media

This week the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its decision in Block v. Tanenhaus, reinstating a Loyola University professor’s claims for defamation and false light against the New York Times and two of its authors. The per curiam opinion acknowledges, but does not resolve, the interesting question of whether state “anti-SLAPP” statutes—such as Louisiana’s Article 971—apply in federal court under Erie:

Block argues that Article 971 is not applicable in federal court because it is procedural and because, even if it is substantive, it is in direct collision with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The applicability of state anti-SLAPP statutes in federal court is an important and unresolved issue in this circuit.2 Unfortunately for Block, his arguments against application of Article 971 have been forfeited.

Footnote 2 describes the state of play in the Fifth Circuit:

We have noted on several occasions that this is an open question. See, e.g., Block, 815 F.3d at 221; Cuba v. Pylant, 814 F.3d 701, 706 & n.6 (5th Cir. 2016); Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83; Culbertson v. Lykos, 790 F.3d 608, 631 (5th Cir. 2015); Mitchell v. Hood, 614 F. App’x 137, 139 n.1 (5th Cir. 2015); NCDR, L.L.C. v. Mauze & Bagby, P.L.L.C., 745 F.3d 742, 752–53 (5th Cir. 2014). These opinions post-date our decision in Henry v. Lake Charles American Press, L.L.C., 566 F.3d 164 (5th Cir. 2009), which stated without explanation that “Louisiana law, including the nominally-procedural Article 971, governs this diversity case.” Id. 168–69. In Lozovyy, we noted the possibility that, particularly in light of our subsequent decisions, Henry could be interpreted as assuming the applicability of Article 971 for purposes of that case without deciding its applicability in federal courts more generally. Lozovyy, 813 F.3d at 582–83. Similarly, we noted in Pylant that Henry did not address “whether, under the Erie doctrine, the array of state procedural rules surrounding anti-SLAPP motions to dismiss (viz. discovery stays, accelerated timetables for decision, and the like) follow the core anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss into federal court.” Pylant, 814 F.3d at 706 n.6; cf. id. at 719 (Graves, J., dissenting) (addressing Erie question not reached by majority opinion and stating that similar anti-SLAPP statute in Texas is inapplicable in federal court because it is procedural (citing Abbas v. Foreign Policy Grp., LLC, 783 F.3d 1328, 1333 (D.C. Cir. 2015)).

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