Thursday, January 26, 2012

UPDATE: Ill. High Court Slaps Down Anti-SLAPP Defense in Coach's Libel Suit

Defamation of characterImage via WikipediaDefendants in a defamation suit brought by a former high school basketball coach may not rely on their state's anti-SLAPP(Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute to defeat the claim, the Illinois Supreme Court ruled this week.

Steve Sandholm was let go by the local school board in 2008 as Dixon High School's basketball coach because his coaching style allegedly included verbally abusing and bullying players (see "TUOL" post 10/28/10). He filed  defamation and false light claims against a group of parents, bloggers and a radio station who had criticized him, but the trial court and the Appellate Court of Illinois Second District both ruled the defendants were protected by the state's anti-SLAPP measure, the Citizen Participation Act [735 Ill. Comp. Stat. 110/1 et seq.] ("CPA") in Sandholm v. Kuecker et al. (Case No. 08-L-19).

As reported by the excellent Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press Web site (, the Illinois Supreme Court found the CPA could not derail Sandholm's suit, which the Court said did not seek to suppress constitutionally protected speech, but rather, sought recovery for harm to his reputation. "If a plaintiff's complaint genuinely seeks redress for damages from defamation or other intentional torts, and thus, does not constitute a SLAPP," according to the Supreme Court opinion, "it is irrelevant whether the defendants' actions were 'genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action, result or outcome.'"

The CPA  is intended to promote citizen involvement in government without fear of retaliation in the form of SLAPP suits, which are very costly to defend against.

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