Central Basin Municipal Water District Suing for Libel

So reports the L.A. Times, and notes a problem with the lawsuit: Government agencies aren’t allowed to sue for libel (even if they are alleging that the speaker was knowingly libeling them). From New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964):

For good reason, “no court of last resort in this country has ever held, or even suggested, that prosecutions for libel on government have any place in the American system of jurisprudence.” The [lower court decision] would sidestep this obstacle by transmuting criticism of government, however impersonal it may seem on its face, into personal criticism, and hence potential libel, of the officials of whom the government is composed. There is no legal alchemy by which a State may thus create the cause of action that would otherwise be denied for a publication which, as respondent himself said of the advertisement, “reflects not only on me but on the other Commissioners and the community.” Raising as it does the possibility that a good-faith critic of government will be penalized for his criticism, the proposition relied on by the Alabama courts strikes at the very center of the constitutionally protected area of free expression. We hold that such a proposition may not constitutionally be utilized to establish that an otherwise impersonal attack on governmental operations was a libel of an official responsible for those operations.

Indeed, in this case the lawsuit isn’t even brought by an individual water district official who’s claiming his own reputation has been wrongly injured by false statements about the district — rather, it’s being brought by the district itself. I just hope that the defendants quickly move to have this legally unfounded lawsuit dismissed (using an anti-SLAPP motion, for which the defendants can recover their attorney fees), before the district uses the baseless lawsuit to subpoena the defendants’ identities.

For two similar stories from the last several years, see this here and here.

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