Kesha Crashes the Ghost of Gawker Legal Battle

A recent ruling in the legal battle between the pop singer and music producer Dr. Luke has undercut The Daily Beast’s motion to dismiss Carson Griffith’s defamation claim

Carson Griffith and The Daily Beast are still awaiting a decision in the long-running defamation suit stemming from BDG’s first, aborted attempt to relaunch Gawker in 2019, which we covered in November. But the case was recently thrown for a loop by an even longer running lawsuit between the singer Kesha and music producer Dr. Luke, where there was a recent ruling that an amendment to New York’s anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP) does not apply retroactively before it was enacted in 2020.

That suit, known in the New York Supreme Court as Lukasz Gottwald v. Kesha Rose Sebert, which, as it happens, has been extensively covered by The Daily Beast, started in 2014 with Kesha’s claims of abuse by Dr. Luke. But in 2020, when a judge dismissed her abuse claims, it continued as a defamation claim by the music producer against the singer. Kesha sought to apply the new anti-SLAPP laws, which were strengthened in part to prevent wealthy individuals from using lawsuits to bankrupt media outlets they don’t like, as Peter Thiel did to Gawker Media in the Hulk Hogan suit.

The teeth of the amended law is that it allows a defendant in a defamation suit to collect legal fees if the plaintiff fails to meet the “actual malice” standard for libel. And, as evidence that the world of media law is tiny, this law was also at issue in Sarah Palin’s defamation suit against The New York Times (though that case is in the federal courts) when the judge ruled that the new anti-SLAPP law applied retroactively. But on March 10, an appeals panel in the Kesha and Dr. Luke suit ruled that “there is insufficient evidence supporting the conclusion that the legislature intended its 2020 amendments … to apply retroactively to pending claims such as the defamation claims asserted by plaintiffs in this action.”

If that ruling stands, it would undercut The Daily Beast’s motion to dismiss Griffith’s suit, which claims she was defamed by articles published about her stint as the editorial director Gawker at BDG. The Daily Beast attorneys, who are also representing then-editor-in-chief Noah Shachtman and former media reporter Max Tani, who were also named as plaintiffs, have argued that Griffith has failed to meet the “actual malice” test in her claims and that she should be ordered to pay the (presumably steep) legal fees incurred so far by The Daily Beast.

But in light of the Kesha case decision, last Wednesday, on March 16, the attorneys for The Daily Beast filed a letter in the case asking “the Court stay its decision on the pending Anti-SLAPP Motion until the basis of the First Department’s decision in Gottwald can be clarified.” It noted that Kesha’s side “plan to move for reconsideration or for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeals by April 11.” Alternatively, they ask that a decision from one year ago rejecting its original motion to dismiss be reinstated “in order to provide Defendants with an appealable paper,” thus negating a year’s worth of discovery and litigation.

The lawyers for Griffith responded last Friday, March 18, with a letter saying they object to the request to wait for an appeal in the Kesha suit, arguing that it’s unknown how long until there will be a ruling on the matter. They also indicated that they like their chances in the current suit. “Plaintiff is confident the Court will take appropriate guidance from the decision in Gottwald, and reiterates as well her arguments in opposition to the pending anti-SLAPP motion.”