(CN) – Utah’s anti-SLAPP statute does not bar a man from suing over the backlash from a newspaper ad questioning two city council candidates, the Utah Supreme Court ruled. Though the justices allowed the defamation claim, they ultimately dismissed it.
William Jacob bought an advertisement in the American Fork Citizen New Utah!, a weekly paper, in which he argued that Tom Hunter and Rick Storrs cannot legally run for seats on the American Fork City Council because they are city employees.
Hunter and Storrs complained to Brett Bezzant, the editor of the paper, that they would be unable to rebut the advertisement, since it appeared in the last issue of the paper before the election.
Bezzant published an “Election Notice” and mailed it to everyone in town. He issued an apology and identified Jacob as the source of the ad, which he wrote contained “false and misleading” information.
Jacob sued for defamation, and the lower court barred his suit due to the Anti-SLAPP Act, ruling that Jacob tried to chill Bezzant’s political speech.
On appeal, Justice Nehring ruled that Jacob’s suit does not fall under the Act.
“Utah’s Anti-SLAPP Act limits protection of citizen participation in the process of government to the exercise by a citizen of the right to influence decisions of the Legislature or executive branch of government,” Nehring wrote.
Despite the fact that the suit was not barred, Nehring ruled that it was properly dismissed by the trial court.
“In his appeal,” Nehring wrote, “Mr. Jacob did not argue that the district court was wrong when it found that the statements were protected by Utah’s public interest privilege and that the statements were non-actionable statements of editorial opinion.”