A Georgia court has dismissed with prejudice a complaint against television personality Mehmet Oz accusing the physician of making false claims about the quality of olive oil in the United States, finding that Oz’s statements were protected under a state anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) law protecting speech made in connection with an issue of public concern. N. Am. Olive Oil Assoc. v. Oz, No. 2016-283156, (Sup. Ct. Ga., Fulton Cty., order entered March 3, 2017.)
The North American Olive Oil Association alleged that Oz and his guests made “false statements regarding the quality and purity” of olive oil sold in U.S. supermarkets. One of the guests was employed by olive oil producer California Olive Ranch, but the guest’s ties to the company were allegedly not disclosed on the show. The court said it had “grave concerns that the motivation for the present action falls directly within the purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to chill speech, in this case, in the competitive marketplace.”
The court found that Oz’s statements were a matter of public concern because they were made “contemporaneously” with a U.S. House Appropriations committee report expressing concerns about “the prevalence of adulterated and fraudulently labeled olive oil imported into the United States and sold to American consumers. In addition, some products labeled as olive oil may contain seed oil, which poses a serious health risk to consumers who are allergic to seed oil.” The “tone and tenor of the show concerns the quality of olive oil, presented in the interest of ensuring viewers get what they pay for,” the court concluded.