This case involved a dispute between two different homeowners association members over whether one of the owners was protected against claims filed by the other that were based upon negative information on a community website.
The conflict between the neighbors stemmed from an incident where one of the owners dog killed the other owners cat. The two owners entered into a written settlement agreement that provided for the payment by the dog owner of $2,000 to the cat owner. The settlement agreement also included a non-disparagement clause. In disregard of the non-disparagement clause, the cat owner posted a hostile message on a neighborhood blog about the dog owner. The dog owner then filed suit against the cat owner for breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
In response to complaint, the cat owner filed a special motion to strike the dog owners entire complaint (anti-SLAPP motion allowed by state statute) based on a contention that the dog owners claims arose from a protected activity the cat owner making statements on an issue of public interest. The trial court denied the anti-SLAPP motion and the cat owner filed an appeal.
Upon review, the appellate court noted that the first step in evaluating special motions to strike is to determine whether the claims arose from protected activity. After that determination is made, the court must evaluate whether a plaintiff can establish a probability of success for each claim. Applying this process to the facts of the case, the appellate court first considered whether the dog owners claims arose from a protected activity, which includes any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest..
After reviewing six case precedents on the issue, the appellate court found that there was no public interest in the negative information about the dog owner that was posted on the internet by the cat owner. The court noted that neither of the owners were in the public eye and none of their acts directly affected a large number of people beyond the families involved in the incidents. Thus, the appellate court concluded that, despite the medium of the internet, the topic was not of widespread public interest. The court stated, There is no issue of public interest when the speakers words are merely an effort to gather ammunition for another round in the speakers neighborhood wrangle. Accordingly, the lawsuit filed by the dog owner was allowed to proceed.
PUBLISHED California Appellate Court decision (January 30, 2020).
See case decision: Jeppson_v._Ley_(Cal._App._2020)