Anti-SLAPP Statute Bars Claims Based on Speech, Even in a Commercial Context
A local school board hired the defendants to consult and assist with the implementation of computer software for the school district. The consultants made statements critical of the technology department, which the plaintiff managed. The plaintiff sued the consultants for defamation. The defendants move for dismissal of the case pursuant to Georgia’s anti-SLAPP law, because the plaintiff failed to verify her allegations. The trial court dismissed, and on the plaintiff’s appeal, the Court of Appeals held that because the speech at issue could reasonably be construed as constitutionally protected free speech to which the anti-SLAPP statute applied, the trial court properly found that verification was required under O.C.G.A. § 9-11-11.1(b). The plaintiff’s argument that the statute did not apply because the statements were made in connection with a business transaction rather than in connection with a political issue of public interest was rejected. The court held the statute did not render the verification requirement inapplicable simply because defendants’ actions were part of a commercial transaction.