The Oregon Court of Appeals released an interesting decision that illustrates the increasing role of on-line review websites, and the potential for resulting litigation.
This case involved a claim for defamation, which is technically an personal injury claim. A defamation claim is a claim that somebody published a false statement, knowing at the time it was false, and knowing that it could harm the plaintiff.
This particular case involved a wedding venue. According to the owner of the wedding venue, a former customer posted a negative review, making several accusations about the plaintiff and her business. The plaintiff filed a lawsuit alleging defamation, but the defendant sought to dismiss the suit under a statute known as the Anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute, or anti-SLAPP law.
The anti-SLAPP statute allows a defendant to strike the claim in a civil action unless the plaintiff can show that he or she will probably prevail on the claim. This kind of motion can be brought where the civil claim arises out of oral or written statements made in an official government proceeding or in a place that is open to the public, or in a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest. The statute is intended to prevent aggressive lawsuits aimed that squelch an public protest.
The trial court granted the defendant's motion, awarded attorney fees to the defendant, and the case was dismissed. However, the Oregon Court of Appeals reversed that decision. In deciding whether or not the court properly dismissed the claim, the Court of Appeals did not directly rule on whether not this kind of lawsuit fell within the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute. However, the Court of Appeals did find that Plaintiff made out a case, and a jury could find in her favor. This was enough to overcome the defense offered by the anti-SLAPP statute.
As result, the Court of Appeals sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. This means that the original case can move forward at the trial court level. The Plaintiff will still have to prove her case, which is that the defendant made false statements, knowing they were false at the time, and that the false statements damaged the Plaintiff. These cases present special challenges, and because the claim is that the defendant acted intentionally, there may be questions as to how any defendant would pay a judgment.