(CN) - A music publishing company can proceed with its $4 million defamation complaint against a former consultant, the 11th Circuit ruled.
The Royalty Network Group, Steven Weber and Frank Liwall claim Carl Harris, who does business as Phat Groov Music, started websites bad-mouthing them after they stopped doing business with him.
Harris worked as a consultant with Royalty, recruiting songwriters and music artists on their behalf, from 2005 until his sudden termination in 2011.
After Royalty sued him for defamation, Harris moved for dismissal of the case, claiming Royalty failed to comply with Georgia's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute by not filing verifications with their complaint, as required.
The District Court denied Harris's motion, finding that the requirement under Georgia's anti-SLAPP law that plaintiffs file verifications with their complaints does not apply in federal court. The court said the anti-SLAPP statute's verification requirement conflicts with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.
On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 11th Circuit agreed.
"The denial of a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute implicates significant constitutional guarantees and values of an exceptionally high order;
specifically, the right to freedom of speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances," wrote U.S. Circuit Judge Susan H. Black.
"Accordingly, we are persuaded that the denial of a motion to dismiss for failure to comply with Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute imperils a substantial public interest and value of a particularly high order, and is effectively unreviewable following entry of a final judgment," she continued.
The panel agreed that the federal rule states that a pleading need not be verified or accompanied by an affidavit, and allows the parties discretion in deciding whether to verify pleadings.
"That requirement conflicts with a valid federal rule of civil procedure, and we cannot rewrite either the rule or the state law to avoid a collision," Black wrote. "Furthermore, because the Georgia anti-SLAPP statute seeks to achieve its objectives through a verification requirement, the instant case is distinguishable from the cases considered by other circuits that have found state anti-SLAPP laws applicable in federal court."