McGee sued Michael Neff and his law firm, the Law Offices of
Michael Lawson Neff, P. C., (collectively, "Neff"),
for defamation arising from an article Neff posted to his law
firm's website and for statements he made to other media
outlets. The statements related to the dangers of
Snapchat's Speed Filter and an automobile collision that
occurred when McGee was allegedly using the Speed Filter to
capture a photo documenting her high speed. Neff's
clients were injured in the collision. Neff filed a motion to
strike or dismiss the complaint under Georgia's
anti-SLAPP statute, OCGA § 9-11-11.1. The trial court
denied the motion, and Neff filed the instant appeal. As set
forth in more detail hereinbelow, we reverse.
September 10, 2015, McGee crashed her car into the car driven
by Wentworth Maynard. The Maynards hired Neff to represent
them in litigation arising from the collision. In that
action, the Maynards sued McGee and Snapchat, Inc., alleging
that McGee was driving at an excessive speed as a result of
her use of the Snapchat Speed Filter at the time of the
collision. Snapchat is an application made for mobile
devices that allows users to take temporary photos and
videos, also known as "Snaps, " and share them with
friends. Snapchat creates "Filters" that allow
users to include captions, drawings, and graphic overlays on
a user's photos or videos. One of these filters is a
speedometer that shows the speed at which a user is moving
and allows for that speed to be superimposed to a Snap before
sending it out over the application (the "Speed
November 24, 2015, Heather McCarty, one of McGee's
passengers at the time of the collision, provided an
affidavit to Neff. McCarty's affidavit stated, inter
alia, the following:
I looked up and noticed that we seemed to be accelerating. I
looked in the front and saw [McGee] holding her phone. The
screen had a speed on it, which was about 80 m.p.h. and
climbing. I asked [McGee] if her phone was keeping up with
the speed of the car. [McGee] said it was. I told her I was
pregnant and asked her to slow down. [McGee] responded and
said that she was just trying to get the car to 100 m.p.h. to
post it on Snapchat. She said "I'm about to post
it." I began pleading with [McGee] to slow down. Just
after I saw the speed of 113 m.p.h., a car pulled out of an
apartment complex, and I screamed.
after the collision, McGee did post a Snap, not of her speed
as shown on her car's dashboard, but showing blood on her
face, with the caption "Lucky to be alive" imposed
on the photo.
of his investigation into the incident prior to filing suit,
Neff hired an accident reconstructionist to examine the cars
and the scene. In February 2016, the reconstructionist
concluded in his report that McGee's car was traveling
between 91 and 107 m.p.h. at the time of the collision. Based
upon this report and McCarty's affidavit, the Maynards
filed suit against Snapchat and McGee on April 20, 2016.
about April 26, 2016, Neff posted an article about the case
on his firm's website, along with a link to the
Complaint. The article was titled "Lawsuit filed against
Snapchat for Distracted Driving[, ]" and includes the
following: a synopsis of the incident, including the
description of McGee's use of Snapchat while driving, a
statement about the dangers of distracted driving, a
description of the "[R]ise of Snapchat[, ]" the
public debate about the dangers of the Speed Filter, and a
statement about the Maynards' lawsuit. Various news
organizations also ran stories about the dangers of the
Snapchat Speed Filter and referenced the Maynards'
complaint. These articles cited to the Maynards' lawsuit
and the article posted to Neff's law firm website.
April 11, 2017, McGee sued Neff for defamation and related
claims based on the article on the Neff website and other
statements he made. In response, Neff then filed a motion to
strike and to dismiss McGee's lawsuit, arguing that the
article was conditionally privileged pursuant to OCGA §
51-5-7 (4), (7) and OCGA § 9-11-11.1, and as a result,
that McGee's lawsuit was subject to dismissal pursuant to
Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court denied the
motion to dismiss, and Neff filed the instant appeal.
review de novo the trial court's denial of Neff's
motion to dismiss. Rogers v. Dupree, 340 Ga.App.
811, 814 (2) (799 S.E.2d 1) (2017). Upon review of a trial
court's denial of a motion to dismiss, "we construe
the pleadings in the light most favorable to the plaintiff
with any doubts resolved in the plaintiff's favor."
(Citation and punctuation omitted.) Id.
"strategic lawsuit against public participation"
(SLAPP action) is a lawsuit filed with the intent to silence
and intimidate opponents or critics by overwhelming them with
the cost of a legal defense until they abandon that
opposition or criticism. Rogers, supra at 814 (2).
The General Assembly enacted the anti-SLAPP statute "to
encourage participation by the citizens of Georgia in matters
of public significance through the exercise of their right to
petition government for redress of grievances. The
statute's stated purpose is to prevent a chilling of that
right through the abuse of the judicial process."
(Punctuation and footnotes omitted.) Hindu Temple and
Comm. Ctr. of the High Desert, Inc. v. Raghunathan, 311
Ga.App. 109, 113 (714 S.E.2d 628) (2011).
current version of the anti-SLAPP statute, OCGA §
9-11-11.1,  provides, in pertinent part, that
A claim for relief against a person or entity arising from
any act of such person or entity which could reasonably be
construed as an act in furtherance of the person's or
entity's right of petition or free speech under the
Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the
State of Georgia in connection with an issue of public
interest or concern shall be subject to a motion to strike
unless the court determines that the nonmoving party has
established that there is a probability that the nonmoving
party will prevail on the claim.
OCGA § 9-11-11.1 (b) (1). An act in furtherance of a
person's right of petition or free speech includes, inter
alia, any written or oral statement made before a judicial
proceeding; in connection with an issue under consideration
by a legislative or judicial body; or in connection with a