Court of Appeals Holds that Denial of Special Motion to Quash Under Anti-SLAPP Act Is Immediately Appealable

On May 29, 2014, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals decided Doe No. 1 v. Burke, No. 13-CV-83, slip op. (D.C. May 29, 2014), in which it considered, inter alia, whether the denial of a special motion to dismiss under the District of Columbia’s Anti-SLAPP Act is immediately appealable. Id. at 2.

By way of background, “[a] ‘strategic lawsuit against public participation’ or ‘SLAPP’ is a lawsuit filed by one side of a political or public policy debate aimed to punish or prevent the expression of opposing points of view.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). The Ant-SLAPP Act “creates a ‘special motion to dismiss,’ a procedural mechanism that allows a named defendant to quickly and equitably end a meritless suit.” Id. at 8. It “also allows a person whose personal identifying information is sought to safeguard his identity by filing a ‘special motion to quash’ a subpoena.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted). “To establish the grounds for either of [these] two procedural protections[,] . . . the moving party must show that his speech is of the sort that the [SLAPP Act] is designed to protect.” Id. “Upon such a showing, the motion will be granted unless the opposing party demonstrates a likelihood of success on the merits of his or her underlying claim.” Id. at 8-9.

In this case, the plaintiff alleged that several anonymous speakers used Wikipedia (an Internet website) to make false statements about her. Id. at 3-6. The plaintiff filed suit in the trial court alleging various common law claims against the anonymous speakers. Id. at 6. She subsequently “issued a subpoena to obtain Wikipedia’s user data so that she could obtain the anonymous [speakers’] identifying information.” Id. One of the anonymous speakers “moved to quash the subpoena pursuant to the . . . Anti-SLAPP Act’s ‘special motion to quash’ provision.” Id. The trial court denied the motion to quash, and this appeal immediately followed. Id. at 6-7.

The Court of Appeals considered several issues on appeal, including the jurisdictional issue of whether the trial court’s denial of the special motion to quash was immediately appealable. Id. at 9-18. Applying the collateral order doctrine, the Court of Appeals held that an order denying a special motion to quash is immediately appealable because such an order: (1) conclusively determines a disputed question of law; (2) resolves an important issue separate from the merits of the lawsuit; and (3) would be effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment. Id. at 12-15. In reaching this conclusion, the Court of Appeals stated that it was not “address[ing] the related but separate question of whether an order denying a special motion to dismiss under the Anti-SLAPP Act is immediately appealable.” Id. at 9 n.6.

The other issues decided on appeal are beyond the scope of this case note.