Friday, August 9, 2013

This Is Not of Public Interest. Someone Better Tell E! News.

In a defamation case involving some celebrities I’ve never heard of, the court upheld the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion because the statements involvedaccusations that the plaintiff, a stylist, had been stealing clothingdid not involve a public issue or an issue of public interest and thus did not satisfy the “arising from” element of the anti-SLAPP analysis.

The defendant is some sort of television personality and actress, having starred in such roles as “sexy nurse” in Fantastic Four. She allegedly accused the plaintiff, a “celebrity stylist and style expert” of stealing clothing from herself and some designers. Plaintiff sued for defamation and defendant responded by filing an anti-SLAPP motion. According to the defendant, the cause of action arose from “speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest” under Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16(e)(4), because plaintiff is “in the public eye” and any statement concerning such a person satisfies the requirement. The trial court rejected the argument, holding that plaintiff was not in the public eye and that, in any event, the statements did not involve a topic of widespread public interest. Defendant appealed.

The court of appeal noted that the scope of § 425.16(e)(4)’s public issue/public interest provision was imprecise and lacking in definition.  The court reviewed the celebrity-related case law on the public issue provision, addressing cases involving Marlin Brando, a Finnish business celebrity, a political consultant ,and a game show contestant, where the requirement was held to have been met, as well as cases involving a labor dispute, the theft of a collectible, and a schoolyard bully, where it did not. The court rejected the rule that “any statement about a person in the public eye is a matter of public interest.” The court noted that, unless the plaintiff was of such fame and ubiquity as to be “a public figure for all purposes and in all contexts” (e.g., Brando, Marlin) or unless she had injected herself into very controversy that was the subject of the lawsuit, the controversy itself must be a matter of concern to the general public. Because plaintiff’s alleged theft of clothing did not meet that test, the case did not arise from protected activity and the motion was properly denied.


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