Last year, the noted (and controversial) climate scientist Michael Mann sued National Review and the Competitive Enterprise Institute for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress for blog posts written by Mark Steyn and Rand Simberg and posted on National Review Online and CEI’s OpenMarket blog, respectively. I blogged about the case in these four posts: 1, 2, 3, 4. Because the suit was filed in D.C. Superior Court, it was subject to D.C.’s anti-SLAPP statute, which is designed to discourage nuisance defamation suits. Accordingly, the defendants filed motions to dismiss the complaint. On July 19, Judge Natalia Combs-Greene of the D.C. Superior Court denied these motions. Barring a reconsideration or interlocutory review, this case could head to trial.
In her two orders (NRO/Steyn, CEI/Simberg), Judge Combs-Greene characterizes the this as a “close case.” She recognizes Mann qualifies as a “public figure,” at least in the context of climate policy debates. This requires that Mann show that the allegedly defamatory comments were made with actual malice — i.e. actual knowledge that the allegdly defamatory claims were false or reckless disregard for the truth or falsity of the claims made. Despite this high burden, Judge Combs-Greene ruled against the defendants on their motion to dismiss. In her view, both sets of defendants made statements that alleged or implied facts that could be defamatory or otherwise actionable, e.g. that Mann engaged in fraud or other disreputable conduct. She further concluded that, despite the “slight” evidence of actual malice “at this stage” of the litigation, “[t]here is however sufficient evidence to demonstrate some malice or the knowledge that the statements were false or made with reckless disregard as to whether the statements were false.” As discovery could produce sufficient evidence to support a claim of [...]