New Case Law: Summit Bank v. Rodgers

Attorney case law update – Summit Bank v. Rodgers (2012) 206 Cal. App4th 669. Branigan Robertson is a California employment lawyer who focuses his practice on wrongful termination. Call for a free consultation with one of our lawyers.

Summit Bank sued its former employee Robert Rogers for posting allegedly defamatory messages on a section of Craigslist entitled “Rants and Raves.” Rogers moved to strike the Bank’s complaint pursuant to California’s “anti-SLAPP” statute (Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16), on the ground that the suit was brought for the illegitimate purpose of chilling Rogers’s right to speak freely about the Bank. The anti-SLAPP statute protects acts in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech in connection with a public issue. This includes any written or oral statement made in a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.

Orange County Employment Attorney Update

The trial court denied the employee’s motion on the grounds that (1) employee’s statements were not protected by the anti-SLAPP statute because Roger’s underlying conduct was illegal (defamation); and (2) the Bank had shown a probability of success on the merits of its defamation claim.

Appeals Court Holding

The CA Court of Appeal reversed, holding that the anti-SLAPP statute barred the suit. First, employee’s statements were speech covered by the anti-SLAPP statute, and the financial code relied upon by the bank (which prohibited certain statements about a banks financial condition) was an impermissible content-based restriction on free speech. Employee’s statements on the blog constituted a public forum; and the financial condition of private banks constituted a public issue because of public interest in the heath of financial institutions as a result of the recent financial crisis.

Second, the Bank did not establish a likelihood of prevailing on its defamation claim because it is common knowledge that online blogs are noted for strongly worded opinions rather than objective facts. Objective facts constitute defamation, not opinions.

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