Horvitz & Levy LLP prevailed in this appeal on behalf of Marcy Winograd, a teacher and community advocate, accused of defamation.
Ms. Winograd initiated a petition campaign in 2014 seeking to persuade the Santa Monica City Council to enact legislation shutting down the pony rides and petting zoo at the Main Street Farmers’ Market based on what she believed were the inhumane conditions there. The petition campaign consisted of public picketing, Internet comments posted on media websites and Facebook, direct lobbying of the City Council, an interview with a local television news program in front of City Hall on the eve of the City Council vote, and citizen testimony before the Council. The petition campaign culminated in a City Council vote at which the Council considered alternative activities for the entrance to the Market once the City’s contract with the operators of the pony rides and petting zoo expired, with the Council voting to direct its staff to put out a request for proposal for non-animal activities or the creation of a pilot educational program.
Following this vote, the operators of the pony rides and petting zoo sued Winograd for defamation and intentional interference with a prospective economic advantage, alleging that she had falsely accused them of animal abuse. Winograd sought to strike all of the claims under the anti-SLAPP statute, explaining that she had been sued for her petitioning activities and these claims were barred by Civil Code section 47(b)(1)’s legislative privilege, which provides absolute immunity against claims that are based on communications made in connection with the work of legislative bodies. The operators of the pony rides and petting zoo argued that anti-SLAPP motion must be denied because the legislative privilege was inapplicable where, as here, allegedly defamatory statements were made to the public or press via the Internet or a television interview. The trial court agreed with plaintiffs, declining to strike the defamation and intentional interference claims.
The California Court of Appeal reversed. The appellate court concluded that all of the challenged statements fell within the broad scope of the legislative privilege because they either directly or inferentially sought public support for the petition to persuade the City to take legislative action to end the pony rides and petting zoo.