Ninth Circuit rules in favor of technical review website IPVM in defamation lawsuit

A federal appeals court has ruled in favor of a tech review website in a defamation lawsuit over articles criticizing a company’s claims about an alleged fever-detection device created early in the pandemic of COVID-19.

The last weeks decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit is a welcome development for IP Video Market Info, known as IPVM. It ends a long legal battle that has forced the tech review website to defend reports that helped members of the public assess the effectiveness of a new device touted as a way to fight the spread of COVID-19. The decision also affirms the importance of a strong anti-SLAPP laws that facilitate the prompt dismissal of baseless libel claims.

X.Labs, which describes himself as a “leader in next-generation public safety threat detection technologies,” the IPVM sued in May 2020, just months after the coronavirus pandemic began. The company specifically challenged a series of IPVM reviews that questioned the accuracy of Feevr, its purported fever detection device, and raised concerns about X.Labs’ misleading marketing claims.

While X.Labs marketed Feevr as a tool to fight the spread of COVID-19 in crowded public spaces, IPVM was skeptical that Feevr could live up to the company’s advertising claims, given the specs. product technical and limited test results published by the company. .

IPVM – represented by attorneys from the Journalists Committee for Freedom of the Press and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP – sought to have the libel suit dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP law, which offers journalists and to others a means of quickly dismissing baseless lawsuits intended to silence critics through costly and baseless legal proceedings. The website argued, among other things, that the statements included in its reviews were not only proprietary opinions, but were also substantially true.

In late 2020, a federal district judge widely rejected IPVM’s arguments, prompting the review website to appeal to the Ninth Circuit. The appeal was made possible by a key provision of California’s anti-SLAPP law which allows an immediate appeal of the refusal of a special motion to strike.

In a opinion delivered on November 9, a panel of three Ninth Circuit judges overturned the district court’s decision. The panel found that X.Labs failed to adequately argue that everything in IPVM’s reviews was false, including references to Feevr’s accuracy and the company’s misleading marketing claims about the device.

The appeals court’s decision is not published, which means it will not create any binding precedent within the Ninth Circuit. But Charlie Hogle, legal counsel for the Committee of Journalists, who helped litigate the case on behalf of IPVM, says the outcome of this case is important for two reasons.

On the one hand, it shows the impact of anti-SLAPP provisions that allow immediate appeals. “They’re extremely important to journalists,” Hogle said, noting that such provisions can help journalists avoid a laborious and costly discovery process.

Additionally, he says, the Ninth Circuit’s decision is significant for what it says about the value of public service journalism at issue in this case and the need to protect it from frivolous lawsuits.

“It is always useful for the news media and knowledgeable experts to be able to provide the public with reasoned assessments of marketing claims. That’s especially true when we’re talking about so-called medical devices being marketed in the early days of a pandemic, when people are trying to figure out how to protect themselves,” Hogle said. “We don’t want to cool this type of expert discourse. We need people to be able to offer informed opinions based on the facts available to them. It’s part of how the First Amendment works and how we make sure members of the public can make smart decisions about their own health and safety. »

The Committee of Rapporteurs regularly submits memoirs of friends of the court and his lawyers representing journalists and media outlets voluntarily in court cases that involve First Amendment freedoms, newsgathering rights of journalists, and access to public information. Stay informed of our work by subscription to our monthly newsletter and Follow us on twitter Where instagram.

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