Where plaintiff real estate professional brought an action for defamation and false light based on an online review written by defendant, defendant moved to dismiss the action pursuant to the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA).
In Charles v. McQueen, No. M2021-00878-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 4490980 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 28, 2022), plaintiff was a real estate professional involved in some capacity with Durham Farms, which was a large residential community. Defendant was a resident in the community who wrote a negative online review of the developer of the community and plaintiff. Regarding plaintiff, the review stated: “Bill Charles, especially, uses misleading tactics to lure in home buyers only to deceive them.”
Based on this review, plaintiff filed this action for defamation and false light against plaintiff. Defendant filed a petition for dismissal pursuant to the TPPA, and after finding that the TPPA applied, that plaintiff was a limited-purpose public figure in the context of this action, and that plaintiff “had not established a prima facie case for actual malice,” the trial court dismissed the case. This ruling was affirmed in part and reversed in part on appeal.
The TPPA, Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-101 et seq., is Tennessee’s version of an anti-SLAPP statute and was designed to “encourage and safeguard the constitutional right of persons to petition, to speak freely, to associate freely, and to participate in government to the fullest extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of persons to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.” (quoting Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-102). “The TPPA provides relief for parties who partake in protected activity constituting either the exercise of the right of association, the exercise of the right of free speech, or the exercise of the right to petition.” (internal citations omitted). If a party petitions for dismissal under the TPPA and “makes a prima facie case that they have participated in a protected activity under the TPPA, the court may then dismiss the action against them, unless the responding party establishes a prima facie case for each essential element of the claim in the legal action.” (internal citations, quotation and emphasis omitted).