Shouting makes the volume loud. It does not make the content worthy.
In a recent ruling affirming the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion, the California Court of Appeal reaffirmed that it is the content of the communication that matters when ruling on an anti-SLAPP motion, not the number of people it is said to.
Big Sugar Bakeshop is a two-location bakery in Los Angeles. Ben “the Baller” Yang is a self-proclaimed celebrity jeweler, who has approximately 1.5M followers on social media. A dispute between the two arose when Yang’s girlfriend ordered a cake for Yang’s seven-year-old son. The cake was themed for a “modern Mad Science Birthday Party,” but to the dismay of the Yangs, candy on the cake resembled pills. The parties disputed how the next interactions went, but ultimately Yang went to Instagram, Twitter, and his podcast, to denigrate Big Sugar and hurt their business.
Big Sugar sued Yang for libel, slander, and a violation of the Unfair Competition Law (B&P Code § 17200). Yang filed a special motion to strike under CCP § 425.16 taking the position that his actions were protected speech. Yang argued that his statements related to the public interest because they addressed (1) candy-confusion (or where a child mistakes medication for candy), (2) a celebrity’s day-to-day life; and (3) criticism of a nationally-recognized bakery that posed a risk to children. Big Sugar opposed arguing that Yang was trying to destroy their business in an act of revenge. The trial court denied the motion, holding that the speech did not involve the public interest, and that Big Sugar demonstrated a likelihood of prevailing. Yang appealed.
The court of appeal affirmed. The court held that Yang’s first argument was merely an attenuated connection of something that might be an issue of public concern. Yang’s statements did not discuss the issue of candy confusion, or attempt to invoke a discussion of it, but was aimed to whip up angry retribution. The court rejected his second argument, holding that his “celebrity” status was irrelevant, and that “even people of great renown are capable of banalities[.]” The court further held that publishing a statement to many people does not transform the matter into one of public interest, stating that “shouting makes the volume loud, [but i]t does not make the content worthy.” Rejecting this final argument, the court held that a one-time dispute between a buyer and a seller is not consumer protection.
The court affirmed the judgement and awarded costs to Big Sugar.