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D.C. Can’t Nix 3M’s Libel Suit Against Lobbyist

(CN) - A federal judge will not reconsider applying the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act in 3M's defamation suit against a former Clinton lobbyist, a federal judge ruled.

The dispute stems from an August 2011 complaint that 3M filed against Porton Capital; its CEO, Harvey Boulter; its subsidiary, Porton Capital Technology Funds; lobbyist-attorney Lanny Davis; and Davis' firms Davis & Associates and Davis-Block.

Operating out of St. Paul, Minn., 3M is a multinational conglomerate with more than 55,000 medical and industrial products. Davis, who worked as a special counsel for President Bill Clinton from 1996 to 1998, has spent the last 15 years lobbying for a string of controversial clients, including African dictators, military coup supporters in Honduras, and the government of Pakistan.

The eight-count complaint accuses Porton of having conspired with Davis in a smear campaign to "coerce" it into paying "tens of millions of dollars ... to save them from the consequences of yet another unprofitable investment," a screening test for the antibiotic-resistant "superbug," Staphylococcus aureus, which can cause Staph infections, pneumonia, toxic shock syndrome or meningitis.

In a separate $30 million breach of duty case 3M filed in Britain, a High Court judge ordered Porton Technology to pay $1.3 million in damages last year.

U.S. District Judge Robert Wilkins meanwhile refused to dismiss 3M's defamation claims under the D.C. Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) Act of 2010. Porton Technology convinced the court, however, to dismiss it for lack of jurisdiction.

Wilkins also dismissed the claims against Davis for tortious interference, blackmail and conspiracy, leaving only 3M's defamation claim to proceed.

Davis and his firms filed an interim appeal, as did the District of Columbia, which had intervened to defend the validity of its Anti-SLAPP Act. On Oct. 5, the court dismissed Boulter as a defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction.

After 3M reached a settlement with the Davis defendants, they dismissed their appeal. The court then denied Boulter's "special motion to dismiss" under the Anti-SLAPP Act.

D.C. then moved to dismiss its appeal so that it could fight to vacate the earlier order instead. Though a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit agreed to dismiss, it withheld ruling on the vacatur motion.

On remand Friday, Wilkins denied refused to vacate his earlier order.

"The court's dismissal of Boulter without prejudice on personal jurisdiction grounds did not prevent Boulter - or the district, through its role as an intervenor defending the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act - from appealing the court's denial of Boulter's alternative grounds for dismissal under the Anti-SLAPP Act," Wilkins wrote. "Insofar as the district chose not to do so, it cannot now complain that the dismissal of the Davis defendants' appeal has prevented the district from obtaining review of this court's ruling on the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act."

"It cannot be gainsaid that the application of the D.C. Anti-SLAPP in federal court raises serious policy questions, and the court does not agree that it serves the public interest to erase an opinion from the books that may contribute to the necessary and healthy debate of those questions," Wilkins added. "The opinion does not prejudice the district, for it is not binding precedent on any other judge or any other court, and the only power it has is whatever persuasive effect its reasoning may merit. Such power will be countered by whatever persuasive effect can be garnered by the arguments of the district and other litigants. And that is how it should be."

D.C. may litigate the applicability of the D.C Anti-SLAPP Act in the future, according to the 12-page opinion.

3M is ranked No. 102 on the 2012 Fortune 500 list, with 84,000 employees worldwide and revenues of $30 billion.

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