(CN) – The Massachusetts Supreme Court refused to dismiss a developer’s defamation lawsuit against a community activist, saying her articles for a local newspaper weren’t covered by a state law aimed at protecting citizens from lawsuits meant to stifle First Amendment rights.
Fredda Hollander covered meetings of Boston’s North End Waterfront Residents Association (NEWRA) for the Regional Review community newspaper. She never mentioned in the articles that she was a member and co-founder of the group.
In 2006, she wrote five articles about three North End properties owned by real estate developer Steven Fustolo.
Hollander wrote that long-time residents of one of Fustolo’s buildings were forced out when the building was condemned for conversion into condominiums.
Fustolo sued Hollander for defamation, claiming she made false statements and stirred up opposition that interfered with other development plans.
Hollander moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that her articles constituted petitioning activity expressing her personal interest as a “member of the community keenly interested in its development and protection.”
This meant that her articles were protected by the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute, Hollander claimed.
The lower court denied Hollander’s motion to dismiss, and the state high court upheld the decision.
“Hollander has failed to satisfy her threshold burden to show that the articles on which Fustolo’s suit is based constitute an exercise of her right of petition under the Constitution,” Justice Margot Botsford wrote.
The fact that Hollander was paid for the articles did not automatically disqualify her from protection under the anti-SLAPP law, the court added.
“Our analysis would not change if Hollander had written the same articles, pursuant to the same instructions from the publisher, as a volunteer reporter,” Botsford wrote.