On December 23, 2020, a California federal judge granted Netflix’s motion to strike the defamation claims from the lawsuit brought by the attorneys of the defunct law firm, Mossack Fonseca, for their depiction in “The Laundromat” (the “Film”). The film starring Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman, and Antonio Banderas is a black comedy about the Panama Papers, a 2016 scandal involving a law firm in Panama hiding money for clients. The plaintiffs allege that the movie depicts them as ruthless and uncaring lawyers involved in misconduct such as bribery, corruption, money laundering, and other financial crimes.
The defamation claims were tossed out in by implementation of California’s anti-SLAPP statute, which provides that causes of action against a defendant arising from the party’s exercise of free speech in connection with a public issue may be defeated early on in the litigation by a special motion to strike unless the plaintiff establishes that there is a probability that the claim will likely be successful. Netflix established that the Film was a “protected activity” covered by the anti-SLAPP statute by successfully arguing that this exercise of speech may be made in a public forum through theatrical and streaming releases and that the content addressed an issue of public interest.
The burden then fell to the plaintiffs to establish a probability of success for their defamation claims, but the court ruled that the plaintiffs had failed to meet this standard. The court noted that no reasonable viewer would view the film as asserting objective facts. Such a reading was especially highlighted by the “BASED ON ACTUAL SECRETS” disclaimer in the opening and the disclaimer in the ending that describes the Film’s contents as fictionalized for dramatization.
Additionally, the court remarked that the Film did not go as far as the plaintiffs allege when it came to ascribing criminality to them. The film did not portray the attorneys as directly involved with the crimes committed by their clients, and therefore the depictions could not be characterized as harmful falsehoods.
For these reasons, the court, pursuant to California’s anti-SLAPP statute, granted the motion to strike the libel, libel per se, and false light actions brought against Netflix.
Mossack and Fonseca are represented by Stephan Seeger of the Law Offices of SJ Carriero LLC and by Richard G. Novak.
Netflix is represented by Michael J. Niborski and Tom J. Ferber of Pryor Cashman LLP.
The case is Mossack Fonseca and Co. et al. v. Netflix Inc., case number 2:19-cv-09330, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
* Lowe & Associates (“The Firm”) is an entertainment and business law firm located in Beverly Hills, California. The firm has extensive experience handling cases involving defamation law, having provided top-quality legal services to its clients since 1991. The Firm is recognized for its many achievements, including successfully litigating many high-profile cases.
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