Goral, a candidate for the office of Chicago alderman, brought suit against Kulys, alleging that Kulys defamed her in posting articles on his blog questioning her legal residency in the ward and alleging that she claimed homeowner exemptions on two residences in violation of state law. Kulys filed a motion to dismiss the case against him, claiming that Goral's suit was a "meritless, retaliatory suit designed to chill defendant's exercise of his rights to free speech and political participation." Specifically, Kulys claimed that the lawsuit violated his right to exercise his protected political rights under the Illinois Citizen Participation Act (Act). The court agreed, and dismissed the lawsuit.
On appeal, Goral argued that the Act did not apply because she had a valid claim of defamation against Kulys. The court disagreed, and upheld the dismissal of the case, finding that the Act immunized Kulys's blog posting. Goral v. Kulys, 2014 IL App (1st) 133236
The appellate court noted that the Act was intended to protect individuals from lawsuits that were designed to prevent them from exercising their political rights (commonly known as SLAPP suits). In order for the Act to immunize the defendants' actions from a defamation suit, the defendant must establish the following three prongs:
- defendant's acts must in furtherance of a right to petition, speak, association, or otherwise participate in government to obtain favorable government action?
- plaintiffs claims must be solely based on, related to, or in response to defendants' acts.
- plaintiffs fail to produce clear and convincing evidence that the defendants' acts were not genuinely aimed at solely procuring favorable government action.
Both parties agreed that the defendant's blog postings questioning Goral's eligibility to run for alderman met the first prong. Goral argued, however, that Kulys failed to show that her defamation suit was meritless and retaliatory - required to show prong 2. The court disagreed, finding that Goral's defamation claim was meritless because (1) defendant's statements were capable of an innocent construction and (2) defendant's statements about the homestead tax exemptions were true. The court also found that Goral's lawsuit was retaliatory, given the timing of the lawsuit with the blog posts. Finally, the court found that plaintiff failed to show that defendant made the statements for any reason other than to procure a favorable government outcome. As a result, defendant's blog postings were protected under the Act, and plaintiff's defamation case could not proceed.
Post Authored by Julie Tappendorf