Updated at 2:24 p.m.
One of two closely watched cases involving the District of Columbia's relatively new law barring lawsuits aimed at chilling protected speech has settled, according to filings in the city's federal trial and appellate courts.
On Friday, parties in 3M Co.'s defamation lawsuit against Washington-based political strategist Lanny Davis notified the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit that Davis was dropping his appeal of a judge's ruling that the D.C. law barring strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, couldn't apply in federal court. This morning, the parties notified U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins that they had reached a settlement in the underlying case.
The D.C. Circuit was scheduled to hear arguments in the 3M case the same day as a similar appeal in a defamation lawsuit filed by former U.S. Department of Agriculture Shirley Sherrod against now-deceased web publisher Andrew Breitbart and his colleague Larry O'Connor. Today's dismissal of the 3M case means the burden of arguing over whether the anti-SLAPP law can apply in federal court will fall solely to the parties in Sherrod's case.
A lead attorney for Davis, Joseph Click of Blank Rome, declined to comment on the details of the settlement agreement. "The parties settled their differences in a manner that was satisfactory to all parties," he said. A lead counsel for 3M, William Brewer III of Bickel & Brewer, could not immediately be reached for comment.
In a lawsuit filed in August 2011, 3M accused Davis of making defamatory statements about the company as part of his representation of Porton Capital, Inc. Porton was involved in litigation over 3M's decision to stop marketing a device used to test for strains of staph bacteria. On October 5, Wilkins dismissed 3M's claims against Porton's chief executive officer, Harvey Boulter, for lack of personal jurisdiction.
Davis moved to dismiss 3M's complaint under the anti-SLAPP law, but Wilkins found that the law, which went into effect in March 2011, conflicted with the federal rules of procedure. Davis appealed, receiving support from a host of media companies and the D.C. attorney general's office on his position that the law should apply in federal court.
Sherrod sued Breitbart, O'Connor and an as-yet-unidentified defendant in February 2011 in D.C. federal court, accusing them of defaming her by posting an edited video clip of her speaking. The clip and accompanying text made it seem as Sherrod, who is black, was admitting to discriminating against a white farmer, but the full version told a different story.
The defendants in that case moved to dismiss the case under the city's anti-SLAPP law and appealed after U.S. District Judge Richard Leon found that the law couldn't apply in federal court.
Davis unsuccessfully moved to consolidate the appeals, but the D.C. Circuit did decide that it would schedule arguments for the same day. Sherrod had argued against consolidation, arguing that the cases involved separate facts and questions of law. Unlike the 3M case, for instance, the appeal in Sherrod's case involves a question of whether the law can be applied retroactively to litigation filed before the law went into effect. The court has yet to set a date for arguments.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly listed counsel for 3M and Lanny Davis.