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Free Speech

Nevada S. Ct. Rejects Libel Plaintiff's Attempt to Dismiss a Case While an Anti-SLAPP Motion is Pending


From Willick v. Sanson, decided Thursday by the Nevada Supreme Court.

Petitioners Marshal S. Willick and Willick Law Group (collectively, Willick) filed a complaint against respondents Steve Sanson and Veterans in Politics International, Inc. (collectively, Sanson), alleging that they made defamatory statements against Willick online. In response, Sanson filed a special motion to dismiss the action pursuant to Nevada's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute, NRS 41.660 [which provides for attorney fees if the defendant wins, but after a good deal of litigation and while a renewed anti-SLAPP motion was pending, Willick moved to voluntarily dismiss the case] …. The district court [rejected Willick's attempt] …. Willick … ask[s] us to vacate the district court's order….

[E]stopping Willick from voluntarily dismissing his case serves NRCP 41(a)(l)(A)(i)'s essential purpose in this instance…. Willick waited a long time—four years—before filing his notice of voluntary dismissal. Further, he filed this notice only after this court reversed a district court order favorable to his case, and one day after a failed mediation attempt. These events themselves happened after a hearing on the anti-SLAPP motion. By now, the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion's first prong have been thoroughly raised, determined, appealed, reviewed de novo, and remanded. Now, Willick and Sanson await the district court's determination on the motion's second prong.

"Nevada's anti-SLAPP statutes aim to protect First Amendment rights by providing defendants with a procedural mechanism to dismiss 'meritless lawsuit[s] that a party initiates primarily to chill a defendant's exercise of his or her First Amendment free speech rights' before incurring the costs of litigation." Here, at this point in the proceedings, Sanson has no doubt incurred litigation costs.

Given these unique and extreme circumstances, we conclude that Willick is estopped from dismissing his action with no consequences, as the litigation has reached an advanced stage after four years and a prior de novo appeal. Therefore, we conclude that the district court did not manifestly abuse its discretion by, or lack jurisdiction when, vacating petitioners' notice of voluntary dismissal. For these reasons, we deny Willick's petition for a writ of mandamus and prohibition.

Congratulations to Margaret A. McLetchie on the victory.