Federal Judge Says ‘Frivolous’ Lawsuit Was Filed to ‘Harass’ Snopes

The litigant and attorney face court-ordered sanctions as a penalty for targeting Snopes with frivolous lawsuit.

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Dear Readers,

We are very pleased to share an update on our epic court battle. We have the biggest victory yet for Snopes in this four-year ordeal – the full dismissal of one of the many lawsuits that was filed against us!

And, in this latest ruling, a federal judge agreed that Snopes has been a target of harassment through the courts. 

This is the same litigation we have been telling you about, in which Snopes is battling lawsuits filed by the owners of a former tech vendor. They have sued us to try to force us to do business with them. The people behind the tech vendor obtained some shares of Snopes and have tried to weaponize them by filing some of the lawsuits as shareholders. 

We have said again and again that this litigation is not a normal business dispute. It’s bullying – using the courts as a weapon, forcing us to incur enormous legal fees to defend ourselves and threatening the independence of Snopes.  

The judge said in the Sept. 29, 2021, order that litigant Christopher Richmond and his attorney, Matthew Hrutkay, deliberately filed a “frivolous” lawsuit to “harass” Snopes; its CEO and Board Chairman, David Mikkelson; and a member of the Snopes board of directors, Brad Westbrook.

Here’s why this matters: In addition to being a shareholder, Richmond himself is a voting member of the Snopes board of directors, making him a fiduciary of the company. He is supposed to be looking out for the best interests of Snopes! Disturbingly, Richmond has been outed by the judge as trying to harm the very company he partly owns.

Not only that, U.S. District Judge Thomas J. Whelan said that Richmond and Hrutkay must face consequences – “sanctions” – for their bad behavior.

This is the ugly truth about the battle for the future of Snopes.

About the Federal Lawsuit

The federal lawsuit primarily focused on one issue: whether Snopes is allowed to advance legal fees so that the company and its staff can defend themselves in court. Richmond and the other hostile litigants have tried, unsuccessfully, to block Snopes from paying for lawyers to defend the company’s employees. 

The main lawsuit with Richmond and other plaintiffs began in 2017. It is moving slowly through the state court system. Early on, the state court unequivocally ruled that Snopes has a right to advance legal fees.

But that didn’t stop Richmond from trying to go after Snopes in federal court, too. So, last year, Richmond filed a separate lawsuit in U.S. District Court to try to block Snopes from advancing legal fees.

We told the judge that the plaintiffs were trying to re-litigate an issue that had already been decided in the state courts – and the court agreed!

Judge Whelan granted our motion to dismiss the lawsuit, with some harsh words for Richmond and Hrutkay. He said in the ruling that: “[T]he Court finds Defendants have established this lawsuit is both frivolous and was filed to harass Defendants. Accordingly, sanctions are appropriate against Richmond and Attorney Hrutkay in this case.” 

As sanctions, Richmond and Hrutkay will have to pay our attorney’s fees in the federal case. This is a stunning victory, although it is just one chapter in this litigation ordeal. While we are confident the federal lawsuit cannot be refiled, the state lawsuit remains ongoing.

This is not the first time that the courts have taken notice of our struggle. A state court judge described the opposition as “overtly hostile interests” to Snopes. Another judge in state court took them to task for “attempting to circumvent” a court’s ruling. And judges in both superior court and the California court of appeals noted that they relied on an “illegal contract” to try to claim rights to Snopes shares to further harass and encumber Snopes.

The state case is expected to go to trial next year. We look forward to resolving it so that Snopes can finally move on from this ordeal.

Thank You to Our Readers

As you know, attorneys don’t work for free. Snopes was forced to hire a legal team to defend its interests. Last year alone, as we have reported, 20% of our revenues went toward legal fees.

Fortunately, you stepped up. More than 44,400 people have donated to Snopes’ legal defense and operations fund.

Your belief in Snopes keeps us going. Since 1994, we have been your trusted, independent source for debunking rumors and misinformation – and we are still here for you.

Want to get involved? Visit our Save Our Snopes page to learn how you can help!

We look forward to finishing this fight – and with your support, we intend to. 

Truthfully yours,

Team Snopes