Georgia insurance adjuster and consultant Bruce Fredrics’ filed a lawsuit against a reporter relating to a proposed television exposé on Mr. Fredrics and his business. In Frederics v. Hon. Brad Raffensperger, Georgia Secretary of State, et al., Case No. 2019CV317438 (Aug. 2, 2019), Mr. Fredrics sought effectively to stop Harry Samler, the host of the local news’ station’s pro-consumer investigative show “Better Call Harry,” from publishing any news stories about his dealings with a homeowner who claimed he defrauded her, and who had subsequently turned to Mr. Samler to publicize her alleged negative experience. Notably, Mr. Samler’s investigation dealt not only with Mr. Frederics’ dealings with this homeowner, but also the consumer complaint filed by that homeowner and resulting investigation against Mr. Frederics by a Georgia regulatory agency.
But Mr. Samler’s employer, CBS46, had other plans to protect its lead investigative reporter (and, ostensibly, one of its most popular segments): it filed a motion to intervene and to join a motion to strike filed by Mr. Samler that asked the Georgia Superior Court to make a finding that Mr. Frederics’ lawsuit impermissibly curtailed CBS46’s constitutionally-protected newsgathering activities. Mr. Frederics opposed both motions, first claiming that, because CBS46 was neither a defendant in his actions nor the target of any of his specific claims, it had no right to intervene in the action. The Superior Court promptly disposed of that argument, noting that “[t]he media’s right to intervene in legal actions that seek to impede its ability to gather and report the news is well established.”
Having permitted CBS46 to intervene on behalf of its employee, the Superior Court next considered Mr. Samler’s motion to strike, brought under Georgia’s anti-SLAPP statute. As with many analogous statutes around the country, Georgia’s anti-SLAPP law requires two prerequisites be met before a court can strike a claim. First, the defendant must make a showing that the plaintiff’s suit encompasses protected free speech in connection with an issue of public concern. The Court found that the subject matter of the action—a homeowner’s complaint to a regulatory agency and the issues related to such complaint, including Mr. Frederics’ business practices as a public adjuster and whether he engaged in unfair, unlawful, or deceptive practices—constituted “quintessential petitioning activity protected by the anti-SLAPP statute” concerning “matters of public interest and concern.”
The second step of the anti-SLAPP inquiry shifts the burden to the plaintiff to demonstrate a probability that he will prevail on his claims at trial. The Superior Court first noted that Mr. Frederics’ sole claim against Mr. Samler involved an injunction from communicating with anyone about the homeowner’s complaint, the subsequent investigation, and the lawsuit itself. The Court found that such an injunction would constitute a textbook “prior restraint” on Mr. Samler and, in turn, CBS46. Nor could Mr. Frederics point to any irreparable harm he would suffer in the absence of such an injunction.
The decision in Frederics appears almost predetermined for those with a passing familiarity with First Amendment rights and anti-SLAPP practice; after all, it sought to enjoin a news station from reporting on an investigation into alleged fraud in its community.