Freeman v. Swift, No. 27CV089585 (Minn. Ct. App., filed Dec. 29, 2009)

Status: Pending.
When a nonprofit corporation that operated a juvenile sex-offender treatment facility (named "Nexus") announced plans for the facility's relocation, a number of people had objections to the relocation plans. One of these people was Janette J. Swift, the founder and leader of a citizen-based group that attended numerous meetings and presented petitions to government bodies involved. Swift communicated with her state representatives, was quoted in news articles, and also established a website and blog.

On Swift's blog, she alleged that the CEO of the facility, James D'Angelo, had made "death threats," and also made derogatory comments about his character while responding to false reports about D'Angelo's suicide. She also e-mailed the supervisor of Peter Freeman, a voluntary board member of the Nexus facility, stating that her e-mail concerned "one of your faculty members who is engaging in unethical, immoral, and possibly even illegal behavior," and sought the supervisor's help in ending Freeman's activities with regard to Nexus. D'Angelo and Freeman brought suit, alleging defamation.

Initially, Swift sought to dismiss the lawsuit under the local anti-SLAPP law, Minn. Stat. s. 554.02, subd. 2(3) (2008); she argued she was immune to liability because her statements constituted "public participation." The lower court denied the motion to dismiss, holding that the statements were not genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action, and that the plaintiffs had provided "clear and convincing" proof that her statements constituted defmation, which was exempted under the statute. On appeal, the Minnesota Court of Appeals agreed that Swift's speech was not aimed at procuring favorable government action, but rather aimed at creating ill will toward Freeman and D'Angelo. The court declined to address whether the plaintiffs had provided "clear and convincing" proof that her statements constituted defamation.

This was the first case in Minnesota to consider what constitutes "public participation" under the statute.

Links and court documents
Court rejects blogger's anti-SLAPP defense, Courthouse News Service, Jan. 8, 2010
Dec. 2009 opinion, affirming denial of Swift's motion to dismiss

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