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Albanese v. Menounos

California Court of Appeals, Second District, Fourth Division

August 7, 2013

LINDSAY ALBANESE, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
MARIA MENOUNOS, Defendant and Appellant.

APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, No. BC468404 Deirdre Hill, Judge.

Freedman & Taitelman, Bryan J. Freedman, and Jonathan M. Genish for Defendant and Appellant.

Berra Connelly, Paul S. Berra, and Brigit K. Connelly for Plaintiff and Respondent.

SUZUKAWA, J.

Plaintiff and respondent Lindsay Albanese, a celebrity stylist and style expert, sued defendant and appellant Maria Menounos, a television personality, for defamation and other torts. Menounos moved to strike the complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute.[1] The trial court denied the motion on the ground the disputed statements did not involve a public issue or an issue of public interest. (§ 425.16, subd. (e)(4).) In this appeal from the order of denial, we reject Menounos’s contentions and affirm.

BACKGROUND

I. The Complaint’s Allegations

Albanese’s complaint alleged as follows: Albanese worked at NBC from September 2005 to December 11, 2009, as a stylist for Menuonos on the Access Hollywood set. After Albanese’s employment with NBC ended, she saw Menounos at a June 3, 2011 “event at the MTV Gift Suite at the W Hotel in Hollywood.” At that event, “Menounos aggressively demanded to speak with” Albanese, who was standing next to “Greg Dava, an employee of the producer of the event.” “In front of peers, colleagues, and prospective business clients, Defendant Menounos loudly accused [Albanese] of stealing by claiming, ‘Dolce and Gabbana won’t lend to me anymore because they said you never returned anything.’” Albanese replied that the accusation was “a lie.” A few days later, “Greg Dava informed [Albanese] that immediately after the scene at the W Hotel, [Menounos] told Greg Dava that Plaintiff Albanese had been stealing from [Menounos] when [Albanase] was performing services for [Menounos].”

Based on the above allegations, Albanese sued Menounos for defamation, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The complaint alleged the defamatory statements were made with express malice, actual knowledge of their falsity, and specific intent to injure Albanese’s reputation and employment. The complaint sought damages for the injuries to Albanese’s “personal, business and professional reputation, ” “embarrassment, humiliation, severe emotional distress, shunning, anguish, fear, loss of employment, and employability, and economic loss in the form of lost wages and future earnings.”

II. The Special Motion to Strike

Menounos moved to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. She contended the complaint was subject to dismissal under the statute because it arises from “conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right... of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.” (§ 425.16, subd. (e)(4).)

Menounos argued the alleged remarks (that Albanese had stolen from her and that “‘Dolce and Gabbana won’t lend to me anymore because they said you never returned anything’”) constituted speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest because (1) Albanese is in the public eye and (2) any statement concerning a person in the public eye qualifies as “speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.” (§ 425.16, subd. (e)(4).)

In order to show that Albanese is in the public eye, Menounos’s attorney Vicki Greco stated in her declaration that: (1) Albanese refers to herself as “a ‘Style Expert’ and ‘Celebrity Stylist’” in her “website, blog, twitter account and Facebook account”; (2) a Google search of Albanese’s name revealed over 662, 000 entries and “hundreds of articles, images, reports and advertisements about Albanese and her career as a Celebrity Stylist”; (3) Albanese appeared on the national television show “Hair Battle Spectacular”; (4) Albanese worked with nationally known figures such as Maria Menounos, Paula Abdul, and Lara Flynn Boyle; (5) Albanese dressed the female cast members of Glee and the contestants on Bachelors and Bachelorettes; and (6) Albanese served as “a celebrity stylist spokesperson for nationally recognized products such as Seven for all Mankind and Famous Footwear Shoes.”

The trial court denied the motion under the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute, stating in relevant part: “Defendant has failed to make the threshold showing that the causes of action arise from protected activity as defined under Section 425.16(e)(4). Defendant’s argument is overly simplified—that solely because [Albanese] is a celebrity stylist and style expert, defendant’s alleged statements are protected activity. However, plaintiff does not rise to the level of being in the ‘public eye’ for purposes of the statute. The cases cited by defendant are not helpful in establishing that she is in the ‘public eye.’ See Sipple v. Foundation for Nat. Progress (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 226, 239 (nationally known political consultant who devised media strategy); Se[e]lig v. Infinity Broadcasting Corp. (2002) 97 Cal.App.4th 798 (former participant of a reality type television show who refused to appear on a local radio show and subjected herself to inevitable public scrutiny and potential ridicule by the public and media). None of the other factors apply. The alleged statement that plaintiff stole from defendant does not involve conduct that could affect large numbers of people beyond the direct participants. Further, the alleged statement does not involve a topic of widespread public interest. Simply put, defendant’s alleged statements are not of public concern.”[2]

Menounos timely appealed from the order denying her special motion to strike. (ยงยง 425.16, ...


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