Computer Repair Shop Owner Has To Pay Twitter’s Legal Fees Over Bogus SLAPP Suit Regarding Hunter Biden’s Laptop

from the don’t-slapp dept

At the end of last year we wrote about an absolutely ridiculous SLAPP suit filed by John Paul Mac Isaac, the owner of a computer repair shop whose name became somewhat famous after the NY Post ran a story regarding what was apparently Hunter Biden’s laptop that had been abandoned at the shop, which eventually found its way to Rudy Giuliani. When the initial story broke, both Twitter and Facebook moved to limit the spread of the article as there were some initial concerns about the veracity of the story. In Twitter’s case, it said that the story violated its policy on “hacked materials” (a policy that we’ve argued was problematic for journalism).

Isaac then argued that because of Twitter’s moderation decision over “hacked materials” that it had defamed him in calling him a hacker. Consider this the precursor to a flurry of other lawsuits we’ve seen recently of mostly bad faith actors arguing that the reasons they were moderated are defamatory, which is not how any of this works. The initial lawsuit was tossed the same day it was filed on jurisdictional grounds, but a substantially similar lawsuit was filed a couple months later that solved the jurisdiction question by adding Madbits as a defendant. Madbits was an image search startup that Twitter acquired many years ago and shut down. Isaac argues in the complaint that Madbits still exists (even though Florida records show the company was shut down after the acquisition) as a way for Twitter to somehow skirt Florida employment laws. Either way, the addition of Madbits provided the kind of diversity jurisdiction necessary to keep the case alive, unlike the initial version that got tossed.

Of course, it still didn’t help — and Florida’s anti-SLAPP law now means that Isaac is on the hook for Twitter’s legal fees. The ruling is pretty straightforward. This was not anything even remotely close to defamation. Regarding the “defamation per se” claims, the judge notes that Isaac’s legal “theory is flawed for several reasons.” Mainly because nothing Twitter did was in reference to Isaac himself.

Here, in contrast, the only persons identified in the Explanations are the NY Post, Hunter
Biden, “Ukranian biz man” and “dad”—not Plaintiff, his business, or any other descriptive
information that made Plaintiff’s identity readily ascertainable…. The Court is
certainly sympathetic to the events that took place and could envision a plausible claim had the
explanations identified the “Mac Shop,” “a Delaware repair shop” or even included a photo of the
Repair Authorization. However, such is not the case here, and the law will not subject Defendant
to liability where it was “meticulous enough” to preserve Plaintiff’s anonymity

And then we have Florida’s anti-SLAPP law to thank for Isaac having to pay Twitter’s lawyers’ fees.

The Court agrees that Defendant is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees and costs under
Florida’s anti-SLAPP statute. First, for the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s defamation claim is
without merit….

Second, the instant suit arose from Defendant’s protected First Amendment activity—i.e.,
preventing the dissemination of the NY Post Article on its platform for violation of its content
moderation policies. See Corsi v. Newsmax Media, Inc., No. 20-cv-81396-RAR, 2021 WL 626855,
at *11 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 12, 2021) (first amendment protection for “hosting and moderating a debate
on matters of public concern.”). Plaintiff maintains that the anti-SLAPP statute is inapplicable
because “[Defendant] was not moderating a discussion of public issues[,]” but instead
“attempting to suppress a discussion of public issues[.]” …. While this precise
issue has not yet been addressed in the context of Florida’s anti-SLAPP Statute, the Court agrees
with the numerous decisions of other courts that Defendant has a “First Amendment right to decide
what to publish and what not to publish on its platform.”

That last line is an important reminder: every website has a 1st Amendment right about what can and cannot be published on its site.

Either way, SLAPP suit dismissed, lawyers fees must be paid by Isaac.

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Filed Under: anti-slapp, content moderation, defamation, free speech, hacked content, hunter biden, john paul mac isaac, slapp
Companies: twitter