A New York state appeals court has handed a major win to Dr. Luke in his defamation lawsuit against Kesha, ruling that New York’s expansive new free speech law – expressly designed to restrict libel lawsuits – does not apply to his case.
In a ruling Thursday, the appeals court said that New York’s newly enacted anti-SLAPP law could not apply retroactively to Dr. Luke’s lawsuit, which claims that Kesha defamed him by accusing him of rape. The producer filed his case several years before the statute went into effect.
The decision is important because the new statute would have required Dr. Luke to prove Kesha acted with “actual malice” when she allegedly accused him falsely — a rigorous standard that would make it much harder to win his case. Applying the new anti-SLAPP law would also have allowed Kesha to win repayment of her legal bills if she eventually wins the case.
In a statement to Billboard, attorneys for Kesha called Thursday’s ruling “manifestly erroneous and contrary to the conclusion reached by approximately 20 other courts,” and they vowed to “promptly” seek to appeal the decision to New York’s top court. Dr. Luke’s attorney, Christine Lepera, said she and her client were “pleased” with the court’s ruling.
Dr. Luke, whose full name is Lukasz Gottwald, filed his lawsuit in 2014, claiming he had been legally defamed by Kesha, whose full name is Kesha Rose Sebert. At issue in his lawsuit was her “false and shocking” allegation that he once drugged and raped her.
In 2020, New York enacted its new anti-SLAPP law — SLAPP being short for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The statute is designed to prevent rich or powerful people from using libel lawsuits to silence critics.
Among other provisions designed to make such lawsuits harder, the law means that anyone suing over a matter of “public concern” must adhere to the tough “actual malice” rule. To do so, they can’t just show that someone said something false and harmful; they must instead prove that their opponent either intentionally lied or acted with a reckless disregard for the truth.
In 2021, a judge ruled that that the law applied retroactively to Dr. Luke’s case, a major blow to his case against Kesha. But Thursday’s decision overturned that ruling.
“There is insufficient evidence supporting the conclusion that the legislature intended its 2020 amendments to the anti-[SLAPP] law to apply retroactively to pending claims such as the defamation claims asserted by plaintiffs in this action,” the court wrote.
A trial is currently scheduled for February 2023, but it likely won’t happen until New York’s highest appeals court issues a ruling in another key pending appeal. That proceeding will decide whether Dr. Luke is a so-called “public figure,” which would also subject him to the difficult “actual malice” standard. Arguments are set for sometime in the next few months.