Back in 2016, owners of the Ludlow Street bar, No Fun, sued the Lower East Side Dwellers community organization for defamation. The other day, the Dwellers put out a press release announcing that the lawsuit had been dismissed in state supreme court.
Operators of the bar, located at 161 Ludlow St., took issue with the Dwellers’ contention in emails and during a public meeting that the night spot lacked a certificate of occupancy. They claimed that this assertion damaged the bar’s reputation. In the lawsuit, the owners went further, arguing that “The Lower East Side Dwellers are on a mission to destroy every establishment with a liquor license on the Lower East Side that does not bend to its will by any means necessary.”
In her ruling, State Supreme Court Judge Lynn Kolter said the case against the local group fell short of the legal standards for libel and slander.
The judge pointed out that No Fun lacked a certificate of occupancy for a “significant period of time,” even if it had obtained the proper permits by the time LES Dwellers leader Diem Boyd made her assertions. Kolter said the plaintiff failed to prove its reputation was damaged (No Fun eventually got its liquor license renewal). She also indicated in her ruling that the libel claim was not made within the statute of limitations.
The Dwellers made their argument under New York’s anti-SLAPP statute (SLAPP stands for strategic lawsuits against public participation). The statute is meant to protect free speech.
In a statement, Boyd said:
Dismissing this defamation suit is a victory for free speech… Our primary concern is for the safety and livability of our communities– we will not be deterred from our mission or intimidated or harassed into silence… We are grateful for Judge Kotler’s vigorous defense of our First Amendment Right, claiming this a victory for every citizen in New York City. Highly profitable bars and nightclubs with deep pockets will think twice about filing lawsuits that target individuals or groups with meager resources with the sole intent of burdening and burying them in costly legal fees in order to squelch their right to speech and protest.
Adam Mehrfar, an attorney for No Fun, told The Lo-Down today:
For No Fun, the legal action was about standing up to bullies who spout falsehoods with impunity. We believe the decision by the Court is deeply flawed. We intend to appeal.
Meanwhile, the Dwellers are moving forward with a counterclaim against No Fun under the SLAPP statute.