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Animal Activists Can’t Sue Over Terror Label

(CN) - A newspaper advertisement that labeled a Philadelphia animal rights group as a terrorist organization was not defamatory, a New York appeals court ruled.

The Center for Consumer Freedom had made the claim after the Humane League of Philadelphia announced its plans to have the vice president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) speak at its holiday fundraiser in late 2008.

In an ad that ran in The New York Times, the center asked, "Why Is (HSUS) Helping a Terrorist Group Raise Money?"

The center based its claim on the Humane League's alleged ties dating back to its previous incarnation as Hugs for Puppies and SHAC Philly. Back then, leaders of SHAC USA were convicted of conspiracy to violate the Animal Enterprise Protection Act and other charges.

Another part of the ad echoed media reports Nicholas Cooney, the leader of Humane League, had threatened the child of an employee of a pharmaceutical company that works with an animal-testing lab.

In addition to the center, the Humane League also sued the Times, Richard Berman, Berman & Co., and David Martosko.

Though a Manhattan Supreme Court judge largely denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment, the Appellate Division's First Judicial Department reversed last week.

"The court should have dismissed the amended complaint as against all of the defendants,". the unsigned opinion states. "Contrary to plaintiff's contention, it is a public figure. It thrust itself into the forefront of the public controversy on animal cruelty and sought to influence public action on the issue. Accordingly, as a public figure, plaintiff must show by clear and convincing evidence that defendants published the ad at issue with actual malice in order to prevail on any claim of libel."

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