The appellate court in the Fourth District Court of Appeal (Santa Ana) has just published a new decision concerning statements made at a Homeowner Association Annual Election Meeting, that were alleged to be defamatory. At the meeting, a candidate running for the Board of Directors accused a former homeowner and board member of
stealing money from the Association. The former homeowner sued the candidate for various causes of action including defamation. (Slander). The candidate filed a SLAPP motion in response to the lawsuit, claiming that the statement made concerning the plaintiff was made in a public forum and constituted protected activity under CCP section 426.16. The trial court denied the motion.
On appeal, the appellate court reversed, and directed the trial court to grant the motion. The court held that a homeowner association annual election is a public forum and that statements made at such a meeting concerning the qualifications of a candidate running for the board, or concerning the qualifications of an opponent, are protected from legal action, even if defamatory, unless the statements are proven to be made with malice. To establish malice, it is necessary to prove that the statements were made with knowledge of their falsehood or reckless disregard of their falsity. Since the plaintiff was unable to demonstrate malice, the court was directed to grant the motion dismissing the defamation cause of action.