Dr. Phil Loses Anti-SLAPP Motion


Dr. Phil needs his head examinied.  He failed to call us, and predictably lost both his anti-SLAPP motion and appeal as a result.

But seriously, a recent case against the Dr. Phil show provides some interesting insights into the reasoning by the Court of Appeal on anti-SLAPP motions.  In this case, Dr. Phil decided to create a Big Brother type episode, with participants volunteering to stay in a communal environment in order to show some aspects of psychology, presumably.  A day or so into the stay, the occupants were told a dinner guest was at the door, and when it was opened, there stood a naked man.  Two of the women, one in her 50s the other in her 20s, were very offended and intimidated by being forced to invite a naked man into their living environment, and hid in one of the rooms, asking the show’s staff to let them leave.  This was met with laughter by the staff, and they were not permitted to leave.  They sued for false imprisonment, negligence, infliction of emotional distress and other claims.

Dr. Phil brought an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming the episode was an exercise of free speech and therefore protected.  The trial court disagreed on two grounds, finding that the facts did not create a free speech issue, and concluding that even if free speech was implicated, the women were likely to prevail in any event.  Dr. Phil appealed, and while he won a minor issue on the points raised, he still lost the motion.  The Court of Appeal ruled (in an unpublished decision) that the show did involve free speech under the anti-SLAPP statute, but agreed with the trial court that the women are likely to prevail on their claims.

The case therefore illustrates how the anti-SLAPP statute is designed to protect against frivolous suits, not to defeat valid claims that just happen to involve free speech issues.

Shame on Dr. Phil and his show.  Crazy or not, some viewers of his show consider it educational, with legitimate travels into psychological issues.  Yes, the women signed releases, but every contract is interpreted in context.  They argued, and now two courts have agreed, that they thought this was going to be some legitimate exploration of psychology along with treatment.  The naked man was obviously for shock value, and did nothing to advance the therapy of the participants.  Societal mores and the criminal statutes that reflect them still hold that indecent exposure is a crime.  Dr. Phil’s show cannot contract to permit criminal behavior, certainly not when the parties to the contract would have no basis to anticipate that conduct.

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Aaron Morris, Attorney
Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP

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