Wednesday, September 27, 2023
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Ann Rule Awarded Costs in Anti-SLAPP Decision

(CN) - Convicted husband-killer Liysa Northon cannot sue true-crime author Ann Rule for defamation over the best-selling author's 2003 book "Heart Full of Lies," the 9th Circuit reaffirmed on Tuesday. Rule will also recoup $21,000 in attorney's fees.

The federal appeals court in Portland, Ore., said an earlier panel from the 9th Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Northon's claims for defamation and false light invasion of privacy against Rule, whose book chronicles Northon's manslaughter conviction in the 2000 shooting death of her husband.

A district court first struck down the claims under Oregon's Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation law, or anti-SLAPP, which allows for the early dismissal of meritless lawsuits.

"Specifically, plaintiffs failed to show how any statements made in the book might have been defamatory," the panel wrote in an unpublished order filed Tuesday. "During the hearing, plaintiffs offered a generalized argument that the entire book was defamatory and did not provide any citations for false statements. The court properly determined that in evaluating whether plaintiffs have actionable claims for defamation under Oregon law, it must look at each challenged statement, rather than the book as a whole."

The Oregon law allows defendants who prevail in anti-SLAPP suits to claim attorney's fees. Rule and her publisher, Simon & Schuster, filed for fees, but a previous appellate panel vacated its order granting them after questioning whether the fee motion was subject to state or federal law. The issue was reassigned to the present panel for "more detailed consideration," according to a separate ruling published Tuesday.

Finding that state law governs the award of attorneys' fees on appeal, and that the request for $21,253.53 in fees was "reasonable," the new panel granted Rule's motion.

Northon, who claimed that she killed her abusive husband in self-defense, is currently serving a 12 1/2-year sentence in Oregon state prison. On the website Northon maintains from prison, she calls Rule's book "an entirely false, nauseating story, which is a disservice not only to Liysa and her children, but to all abused women and children."

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