In the case of Aristocrat Plastic Surgery, P.C. v. Silva, a New York Appellate Division Court had the opportunity to review New York’s laws concerning Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPP suits are characterized as having little legal merit but are filed nonetheless to burden opponents with legal defense costs and the threat of liability and to discourage those who might wish to speak out in the future. New York’s anti-SLAPP legislation is designed to protect people from SLAPP lawsuits where the subject of the lawsuit includes “any communication in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” “Public interest” “shall be construed broadly and mean any subject other than a purely private matter.”
Many SLAPP suits arise out of opinions expressed through the internet, and that is what led to the lawsuit of Aristocrat Plastic Surgery P.C. v Silva. Silva was a patient of Aristocrat. Silva underwent a number of procedures culminating in a butt lift. Silva was unhappy with the medical treatment provided and posted her opinions on the internet, including a Yelp review. Silva claimed that Aristocrat was “money hungry” and other reasons why people should not book an appointment with the surgeon, Dr. Terhani. Aristocrat and the doctor did not like being the butt of Ms. Silva’s complaints, and sued her for among other things, defamation, and intentional inflection of emotional distress. Silva made a motion to dismiss the complaint under the anti-SLAPP laws, and sought costs, attorney fees and punitive damages. The Court granted Silva’s motion to dismiss the case against her.
The Court held that what constitutes “public concern” is to be broadly interpreted. Reviews of businesses, restaurants, and physicians, have all been found to be of public interest. Here, Silva’s “posts concerning the plastic surgery performed upon her by Dr. Tehrani qualify as an exercise of her constitutional right of free speech and a comment on a matter of legitimate public concern and public interest—namely, medical treatment rendered by a physician's professional corporation and the physician performing surgery under its auspices.”
Because the Court found that the doctor had brought a SLAPP lawsuit against Silva, Silva was entitled to recover her costs, and the attorney fees, in defending against the SLAPP lawsuit. She may also be entitled to punitive damages if she can show that the SLAPP lawsuit was commenced for the “sole purpose of harassing, intimidating, punishing or otherwise maliciously inhibiting the free exercise of speech.”
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