SLAPP Win: Court Awards Legal Fees to Filmmaker in Dole Case

December 15, 2010

A judge in California has told the Dole Food Co. to pay about $200,000 in court costs and attorney fees to two documentary filmmakers whom Dole had sued for defamation.

The film had claimed that Dole's use of pesticides had caused harm to farm workers in Nicaragua. Titled "Bananas!," it was produced by Swedish filmmaker and journalist Fredrik Gertten. The underlying case by Nicaraguan farmworkers against Dole, which the workers originally won, was thrown out in July 2010 when a federal judge found the farm workers' case to be fraudulent.

After Dole sued the filmmakers for defamation, the filmmakers sued Dole under California's anti-SLAPP law, moving to have the defamation suit dismissed. "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" (SLAPP) suits are often brought by corporations against small groups and journalists who can not afford to defend themselves in court. California's anti-SLAPP law gives such defendants remedies.

Dole also threatened legal action against the LA Film Festival, which caused sponsors to withdraw their support and the film to be scrubbed from the competition. Dole dropped its suit against Gertten in October 2009 — but the film could not be shown in the US until Gertten won the anti-SLAPP suit.