A San Mateo County Superior Court ruled in favor of social media giant Facebook in an appeal brought against the company's anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP) motion as well as to strike the original complaint and award the company its attorney’s fees for the appeal.
The order, filed Aug. 9, is to be remanded to trial court in each matter.
The initial lawsuit was filed in early 2016 by Jason Cross, a country rapper performing under the stage name Mikel Knight, on six causes of action. Cross alleged Facebook had breached its written contract, was negligent in interfering with prospective economic relations, and had violated the common law right of publicity among others. A judge had previously dismissed the allegations, save for the violation of publicity.
In the background provided in the decision, Cross used a marketing strategy involving the employment of contractors to travel the country in vans bearing the rapper’s logo to promote his records and merchandise. In 2014, two of the contractors were involved in separate car accidents within a week of each other due to the contractors falling asleep at the wheel resulting in deaths and critical injury. Shortly thereafter, an unauthorized Facebook page titled "Families Against Mikel Knight," purportedly run by a relative of one of the deceased, was created.
The page allegedly stirred up vitriol for Cross and his company, which he believes led to direct threats and physical violence against him and his employees. Additionally, the lawsuit alleges that the Facebook page and two others like it cost Cross lucrative contracts with the Dallas Cowboys and Nielsen SoundScan.
As reported in the lawsuit, Cross initially approached Facebook to have the pages taken down but the company only agreed to remove comments and posts that included threats of harm, hiding behind outdated policies in the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA) and the First Amendment which it then employed in the initial trial proceedings.
On May 31, the trial court determined that three of the six actions were barred due to the CDA, but that the claims tied to publicity were not. The decision determined that the right of publicity is tied to intellectual property. Additionally, Facebook using advertising adjacent to the unauthorized pages gave credence to the claim. Both parties filed appeals which were then consolidated.
Upon review, the superior court determined that the plaintiff’s arguments failed to demonstrate a likelihood of prevailing on the merits against the anti-SLAPP motion. In regards to the remaining causes of action, the court ruled in favor of Facebook as well.