Belize Expat Development

Jurisdiction in Belize vs Anti-SLAPP

Case Summary:

  • Firm identified anti-SLAPP and personal jurisdiction issues in online defamation case at the outset.
  • Firm successfully argued that a loss on personal jurisdiction issues would not trigger right to attorneys’ fees under anti-SLAPP statute.

Jurisdiction vs Anti-SLAPP

In early 2109 William W. came to Gupta Evans & Ayres with an urgent business litigation case. Bill was a local San Diego real estate entrepreneur and had a growing conflict centered on a property development in Belize aimed at expat buyers.

Unbeknownst to him,  he had discovered that some of his Belize development’s residents had formed a private Facebook group in which the members were discussing ways to oust him from his ownership stake and return the project into the hands of the previous developer (with whom they were coordinating). The plan on how to accomplish this transfer centered largely on smearing William’s reputation and interfering with pending transactions with other potential buyers. 

By the time William came to us, damage had been done in the form of reputation damage with other business partners and potential business dealings. We knew we had a strong case for defamation of character. 

In late 2019, Gupta Evans & Ayres brought a complaint for defamation and tortious interference claims in federal court against the ringleader members of the Facebook group and against the prior developer who had actively participated in the plot to defame our client. 

Opposing counsel filed a motion known as an anti-SLAPP motion—wherein the prevailing party would be entitled to attorneys’ fees—combined with a motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction because the project was in Belize and not the US.  We opposed, arguing that a private Facebook group is not a public forum entitled to First Amendment and anti-SLAPP protection and that there was sufficient connection between the defendants and the state of California to warrant jurisdiction. 

Knowing the potentially devastating effect of an award of attorneys’ fees against one of our clients, argued the alternative. We argued that if the defendants succeeded on the jurisdictional issue, then their anti-SLAPP motion—and therefore the attendant claim for attorneys’ fees—would be moot. 

After a marathon 90-minute oral argument, the Court ultimately agreed with us and held that because it was dismissing the case for lack of jurisdiction, the Court no longer had jurisdiction to rule on the anti-SLAPP motion. 

In the end, William succeeded in sending a message to the residents who had been smearing his reputation, while successfully avoiding the often draconian penalties of an anti-SLAPP motion. With the case dismissed and the defamation at an end, he was able to go on to complete the project and continue to grow his overseas relationships with real estate business partners unsullied by the interference of the angry Facebook group participants and their cohort, the prior developer.