California Court Allows James Woods’ Twibel Case to Proceed

Reversing an earlier tentative ruling, the Los Angeles County Superior Court has ruled that a suit by actor James Woods against an anonymous Twitter foe can go forward. In the February 8, 2016 Order, Judge Mel Red Recana denied an Anti-SLAPP motion made by defendant John Doe (who writes on Twitter as “Abe List”), finding that Abe List’s description of Woods in a Twitter posting as “cocaine addict James Woods” could be viewed by a reader as a statement of fact, supporting Woods’ defamation claim.

The lawsuit, James Woods v. John Doe, et al., grew out of a battle Woods and Abe List waged on Twitter in July 2015. In response to a tweet by Woods about USA Today not covering the “Planned Parenthood baby parts market” controversy, Abe List tweeted, “cocaine addict James Woods still sniffing and spouting.” Woods sued Abe List and nine other John Does, claiming defamation and invasion of privacy by false light.

Abe List responded with a motion under California’s anti-SLAPP statute to strike the lawsuit. At first, in a Tentative Order dated February 2, 2016, the Court agreed with Abe List, finding that the lawsuit arose from his free speech rights, and that Woods had not shown that he had a probability of prevailing on his claim. In particular, the Court said, given its context, Abe List’s tweet was “rhetorical hyperbole,” rather than a statement of fact capable of supporting a defamation claim. The Court also sustained with Abe List’s objections to opinion evidence from an expert linguist Woods offered in opposition to the motion.

The following week, in an abrupt reversal, the Court issued a new ruling denying the motion because, the Court said, Woods had shown a probability of prevailing on his claim. In particular, the Court ruled that Abe List’s statement could “and indeed must” be viewed as a statement of fact. In making this decision, the Court relied on the opinion from Woods’ linguist that it had rejected in the earlier Tentative Order.

Abe List has filed an appeal, as announced by his attorney on Twitter.