03 Dec

A Victory For Free Speech in California: Will I Get My Victory?

UPDATE: On February 17, 2010, Medifast Inc. filed suit in US District Court, Southern District of California, alleging defamation, violation of California Corporations Code, and unfair business practices. On March 29, 2011, Judge Janis Sammartino dismissed all of Medifast’s claims against me in her ruling on my anti-SLAPP motion.

A Swedish film maker, WG Film, won a victory for free speech in California. The documentary film producer made a movie about Dole Food, called “Bananas!”, detailing how the company was using pesticides and how it was treating its Nicaraguan workers. The film wasn’t flattering and, naturally, Dole sued the company for defamation.

The producers filed an anti-SLAPP motion in California, saying that the the movie was protected as free speech. Dole then dismissed the lawsuit, but did so without prejudice, which left an open threat that the lawsuit could be refiled at any time.

The court granted the anti-SLAPP motion, scoring a victory for WG Film (and free speech), and  preventing Dole from refiling the lawsuit.

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” and is essentially the type of lawsuit that the big company with tons of money files against a little guy to shut him up. It’s obvious that a company with unlimited resources can get an individual or much smaller company to stop speaking out against the big company. The smaller party simply doesn’t have the same financial resources to fight a lengthy lawsuit.

When an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the proceedings are supposed to stop, and the party that filed the original lawsuit is forced to prove that they have a probability of prevailing in their case.

In this case, Dole failed miserably. The court found that there was nothing defamatory about Bananas! Indeed, it may have been unflattering to Dole, but the court found that it accurately portrayed the facts. The lawsuit was thrown out, and Dole must pay $200,000 in attorneys fees and costs for the defendants.

Too bad it took a whole year and $200,000 in legal fees to get to this point. The anti-SLAPP legislation is supposed to avoid such a lengthy and costly delay. Indeed, anti-SLAPP motions are supposed to be heard within 30 days after filing. Dole successfully delayed arguing the motion for a year.

But as I have found out in the malicious lawsuit brought against me by Medifast Inc. (NYSE:MED) and its Take Shape for Life (TSFL) division, laws don’t always work they way they are intended.

It doesn’t matter that Medifast has completely lied about me and my work in multiple court filings. It doesn’t matter that all the evidence that had been uncovered in the lengthy discovery process not only proves Medifast lied about me and my work, it goes even further and shows that I did the opposite of what Medifast has claimed. Nonetheless, Medifast has been allowed to drag this litigation out for months, and the earliest possible resolution for me will come more than a year after the malicious lawsuit was filed. Yes, it is taking a year for the court to actually consider my anti-SLAPP motion. My motion was originally filed on April 12, 2010. Yet we will not argue the motion until nearly a year later.

Like Dole, Medifast is trying to scare others who might want to speak the truth about Take Shape for Life and its awful multi-level marketing “opportunity” that sucks people in with deception. And it’s not a stretch to believe that ordinary people might be a tad bit scared of a year of litigation and hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees.