Defamation Case Law in California Supreme Court

A recent decision of the Supreme Court of California has found that the case filed by Lindsay Albanese against Maria Menounos can continue because the motion to strike the complaint filed by the defendant could not be sustained on the grounds that the filed complaint was not pertinent to a public issue.

The basic facts of the case, as they were accepted by the court upon the reading of the complaint were that the plaintiff was an employee of a network television station for a number of years in the previous decade and in the course of her employment acted as the defendant’s stylist and then in 2011 the defendant had, in front of a large crowd of people in a hotel, loudly accused the plaintiff of stealing during her time in employment as a stylist with the television network. As a result of the allegations, the plaintiff sued for a variety of torts including defamation.

A motion to strike the complaint was then filed under the terms of the ANTI-SLAPP Statute, specifically 425.16 which allows a complaint to be struck out if it relates to an issue of the freedom of speech found in the Constitution of the United States. There were a number of reasons relied upon by the defendant in trying to establish that the plaintiff was a public figure. The attorney for the defendant cited a google search with over 600,000 results, a web page maintained by the plaintiff and social media accounts in which the plaintiff referred to herself as a celebrity stylist in the hope of convincing the court that the plaintiff was a public figure who therefore invited comment on matters which could be construed as being within the realm of the public interest.

However, the court was adamant in its finding that the complaint could not be struck out for a number of reasons. The court essentially saw the dispute as being of a private nature because it related to the private conduct of individuals which did not have any bearing on public issues or matters of general significance or concern. The court cited a variety of authorities which also supported the notion that there is a high threshold for being able to prove that a matter is a matter of public concern. Indeed the cases where this part of the Anti-SLAPP statute has been applied has usually involved political figures and the holders of public office rather than persons that have a more inexact type of fame or celebrity not associated with political matters of other matters of public importance. The decision has given greater clarity to the interpretation of the Anit-SLAPP statute and is expected to be applied by attorneys litigating similar cases in California in the near future.

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