Constitutional Law

Appeals Court OKs Cyberbullying Suit, Says Threats Nixed SLAPP Law

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Ruling on a defendant’s argument that a so-called SLAPP law precluded a tort claim for alleged cyberbullying, a divided California appeals court has given the green light to the defamation and civil rights suit by the unidentified teen victim and his family.

In a written opinion (PDF) on Monday, a majority of the three-judge panel upheld the family’s right to sue. The threats of violence contained in Internet comments allegedly made by classmates about a fellow Los Angeles high school student they perceived as gay are not protected by the state’s “strategic lawsuit against public participation” (or SLAPP) statute, the court ruled.

A dissenting judge says the threats of violence were not, in context, credible threats, notes the San Francisco Chronicle. The teen’s father says he moved his family at the advice of police due to the claimed cyberbullying.

Attorney Rex Beaber, who represents the defendant who pursued the motion to strike based on the SLAPP argument, tells the newspaper he plans a further appeal to the state supreme court.

The opinion is one of the first in California to consider the extent to which objectionable Internet comments are considered constitutionally protected speech, the Chronicle reports.

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