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February 2006 Vol. 21, No. 2   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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PADI Anti-Defamation Lawsuit Tossed Out

from the February, 2006 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we reported in January 2004, PADI sued the Web site Diverlink (http://Diverlink.com) for defamation over an essay that compared PADI training standards with NAUI and YMCA. The suit has been dismissed, with PADI ordered to pay court costs incurred by Diverlink and the essays author.

In 2001, Diverlink carried an article by Walter Wilt, who holds several instructor certifications, stating, All three agencies have room to improve. PADIs system is very rigid, allowing little room for an instructor to improve the course by presenting skills in a different order. Wilt also wrote that PADI has been removing skills from its requirements since the late 1970s. While conceding that a person could dive without the removed skills, Wilt asked, Will the diver be confident and knowledgeable enough to deal with problems and emergencies as they arise? His own response was: I fear PADI standards do not allow us to answer yes. It seems PADI standards are designed around time constraints instead of around learning to dive.

PADI sued in California, claiming that the Diverlink site is full of inaccuracies, half-truths and outright misrepresentations regarding PADIs business, instructional materials, instructional methods, and policies. One Diverlink statement singled out in PADIs complaint was, If you want to learn to be a good diver as opposed to just being certified to be a diver, then most responsible divers would suggest getting trained by the higher standards that agencies like the YMCA and NAUI have maintained over the years.

A federal judge threw out PADIs complaint, citing a California law prohibiting suits brought to silence legitimate public debate. PADI was ordered to pay Diverlinks attorneys fees, but PADI appealed the ruling to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Last summer, the Ninth Circuit Court upheld the dismissal, because the Web site made obvious that the action arose from its acts in connection with a public issue in furtherance of its First Amendment rights. The court further held that Diverlink was immune from the charges of defamation under the California law known as anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP). Since Diverlink did not write the statements but was simply the publisher of Wilts article, the court said that no provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider. Wilt was not named as a defendant by PADI.

The Ninth Circuit Court agreed that Diverlink, as the prevailing party, was entitled to attorneys fees and court costs. Wilt told Undercurrent that PADI has advised the Ninth Circuit that the case has settled and that it is no longer pursuing legal action. The settlement agreement calls for PADI to pay Diverlink $311,187.

Additionally, Wilt himself was awarded $3,000 attorneys fees as sanctions against PADI by a Florida court, his home, where PADI had tried to fight the anti- SLAPP motion. Says attorney Paul Meyer, who was not involved in the suit, This is unusual. Lawyers have to pretty much behave like complete miscreants to earn this kind of sanction in the U.S.

Eddie Rhodes, Diverlinks webmaster, says, The case is exactly what it appeared to be at first look, a big bully trying to get their way even though there was no grounds for it ... They [PADI] played dirty along the way, and they were chastised by two federal judges in different districts for their unethical and improper behavior.

PADIs legal department declined to talk to Undercurrent about the decision. Their legal director, Pat Fousek, said, Its PADI corporate policy not to speak to Undercurrent, so we have no comment.

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