Plaintiffs’ defamation action based on a scene in American Hustle should have been stricken under the Anti-SLAPP statute as the movie was protected activity, being about subjects of public interest—the Abscam sting operation and 1970’s culture—and, given the context, no reasonable person would have believed the allegedly defamatory words were assertions of truth. The trial court should have granted defendant’s Anti-SLAPP motion to strike this defamation complaint. Here, American Hustle, a “screwball farce” movie about the Abscam sting operation and 1970’s culture generally, contained a scene about a 1970’s controversy concerning the safety of microwaves, in which a ditzy wife says they remove all nutritional value from food and she knows this because of an article plaintiff wrote. Plaintiff sued for defamation claiming he never said any such thing. The subjects of the American Hustle movie were matters of public interest—the Abscam sting, the 1970’s generally, and even the microwave controversy. At the time, plaintiff was a public figure in the debate about health hazards of microwaves. So the challenged statement was protected speech under CCP 425.16(e). Plaintiff failed to show a probability of success on the merits. He did not submit a declaration affirming that he never said microwaves robbed food of its nutritional value. Also, no reasonable person would take the ditzy wife’s statements in a farcical scene as assertions of truth, so they were not defamatory.
California Court of Appeal, Second District, Division 8 (Grimes, J.); June 6, 2016 (published June 27, 2016); 2016 WL 3537089