Celeb Stylists Can Still Be Defamed, Court Says

     LOS ANGELES (CN) – A former stylist for Maria Menounos can advance claims that the “Extra” host defamed her with stealing accusations, a California appeals court ruled.
     In a 2011 complaint, celebrity stylist Lindsay Albanese claimed that Menounos “loudly accused” her of stealing at an MTV event and told onlookers that “Dolce and Gabbana won’t lend to me anymore because they said you never returned anything.”
     Albanese had previously worked as a stylist to Menounos on the set her previous gig as an “Access Hollywood” correspondent.
     Menounos sought to strike Albanese’s complaint under California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) law.
     The occasional actress and professional wrestler contended that her comments constituted free and protected speech connected to a public issue in the public interest. She argued that Albanese is in the public eye, and any statement concerning a public figure qualifies as protected speech under anti-SLAPP guidelines.
     Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Deirdre Hill disagreed, however, and called Menounos’ argument “oversimplified.”
     Albanese does not qualify as a public figure despite her work with celebrities, the judge found. A three-judge panel of the Second Appellate District agreed Wednesday.
     “If we were to adopt Menounos’ overly broad definition of a public issue, we would obliterate the requirement that ‘there should be a degree of closeness between the challenged statements and the asserted public interest. The assertion of a broad and amorphous public interest is not sufficient. Moreover, the focus of the speaker’s conduct should be the public interest, not a private controversy,'” Judge Steven Suzukawa wrote for the court, citing the Fourth Appellate District’s 2008 resolution of Hailstone v. Martinez.
     Although Albanese may be a celebrity of sorts, her dispute with Menounos was a private one, according to the 16-page ruling.
     “Even if Albanese is rather well known in some circles for her work as a celebrity stylist and fashion expert, there is no evidence that the public is interested in this private dispute concerning her alleged theft of unknown items from Menounos or Dolce and Gabbana,” Suzukawa wrote. “In short, there is no evidence that any of the disputed remarks were topics of public interest.”
     Albanese nevertheless cannot seek attorneys’ fees because the anti-SLAPP motion was neither frivolous nor irrational given that “what constitutes an issue of public interest is open to more than one rational interpretation,” Suzukawa wrote.

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