WASHINGTON, D.C. – The D.C. Superior Court dismissed yesterday a defamation lawsuit brought against the District by Eric W. Payne, former Director of Contracts for the Office of the Chief Financial Officer. Mr. Payne’s suit contended that he was defamed in a 2012 Washington Post column in which D.C. Chief Financial Officer Dr. Natwar Gandhi was quoted as saying that Mr. Payne had been dismissed in 2009 for poor job performance.
Superior Court Associate Judge Laura A. Cordero held that the Anti-SLAPP Act of 2010, which protects speech on matters of interest to the public from “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” puts the legal burden on Mr. Payne to show his likelihood of success in the case because his firing was an “issue of public interest” and that Mr. Payne, following his termination, “has made himself a public figure.”
Judge Cordero ruled in her written opinion that Mr. Payne “cannot establish a likelihood of success on the merits for his defamation and false light claims, because [Dr. Gandhi’s] statement was published with privilege and [thus] the statement at issue is not defamatory as a matter of law.”
The Court also rejected Mr. Payne’s allegations that the District intentionally inflicted emotional distress on Mr. Payne or prevented him from obtaining another job in his field of interest.
A previously-filed case by Mr. Payne charging wrongful termination and a violation of the Whistleblower Protection Act remains pending in U.S. District Court.
District of Columbia Attorney General Irvin B. Nathan said, “We are pleased that the Superior Court agreed with our contention that the District was covered by the Anti-SLAPP Act in this matter and that this meritless lawsuit deserved to be dismissed. We are continuing to litigate the federal action that Mr. Payne’s lawyers have brought and we expect to prevail in that litigation as well.”
- Ted Gest, Public Information Officer