Judge Orinda Evans of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia, Atlanta Division rendered her decision on Wednesday. She refused an application by CNN to strike out or otherwise dismiss a lawsuit brought by Davide Carbone, the former CEO of St. Mary’s Medical Center in West Palm Beach. Carbone is claiming the cable network manipulated statistics and then produced a series of reports stating the number of infant deaths at St. Mary’s was three times the national average.
The reports were aired and published in June 2015. One such article was entitled, “Secret Deaths: CNN finds high surgical death rate for children at a Florida hospital
.” These reports stated at least eight babies died after having heart surgery between 2011 and 2013. This, according to CNN, was three times the national average.
As a result of these reports, St. Mary’s closed its pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program
[MYPALMBEACH] in August 2015. Two days later, Carbone resigned his position as CEO and has had difficulty finding employment in his field since then. Carbone had been the CEO of St. Mary’s since 2006 when it was on the brink of closing. He was credited with turning the hospital around.
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After his resignation, Carbone sued Cable News Network, Inc., anchor Anderson Cooper and other parties. Carbone claims CNN compared “apples to oranges” when compiling their statistics because the numbers of infant deaths did not take into account how many of these babies were “high-risk” patients. Carbone further claims the network left out some heart surgeries, resulting in a higher percentage of baby deaths.
The state of Georgia has an anti-SLAPP law
designed to prevent applications that have no merit from being launched against defendants who are exercising their rights under the First Amendment. Under state law, Carbone would have to show he would “likely prevail” if the suit was allowed to go forward.
But Carbone brought his action in a federal court and federal rules are different. Plaintiffs such as Carbone need only show their claims are "plausible." CNN argued Georgia’s anti-SLAPP suit should prevail and the claim should be dismissed.
Appellate courts are divided as to whether anti-SLAPP laws take precedence over federal rules. Judge Evans ruled Carbone need only show, at this point, that his claim is plausible. She adopted the reasoning of a D.C. Circuit Court judge who ruled anti-SLAPP laws are enacted merely to make it more difficult for a plaintiff to have a trial in federal court. In other words, laws such as Georgia's can be ignored.
Evans did not determine whether Carbone, as the face of the hospital, is a public figure or a private person. In order for a public figure to successfully sue for defamation they must show the defendant acted with malice. LawNewz
reports Evans found the allegations in the claim were sufficient to find CNN acted recklessly with regards to the facts. Acting recklessly is the same as acting with malice.
President Trump has said he would like to see libel laws changed to make it easier to sue for defamation. Carbone’s attorney, L. Lin Wood, said this case falls into the category of fake news. Given the fact appellate courts are split on what is necessary to move these types of cases forward and the attention being paid to fake news, this case may end up before the Supreme Court of the United States.