August 09, 2013 9:52am PT by Eriq Gardner
'Extra' Co-Host Maria Menounos Can't Escape Celebrity Stylist's Defamation Claim
A statement made about a person in the public eye is not necessarily a matter of public interest.
That's the conclusion of a California appeals court this week in addressing a dispute between current Extra co-host Maria Menounos and Lindsay Albanese, the stylist who used to work for Menounos on Access Hollywood.
Albanese is suing Menounos over an incident that happened at a June 3, 2011, event at the MTV Gift Suite at the W Hotel in Hollywood. At the time, Albanese was no longer working for NBC, and Menounos is said to have gone up to her former stylist and loudly accused her of stealing by claiming, "Dolce & Gabbana won't lend to me anymore because they said you never returned anything.‟
After Albanese sued for defamation, Menounos attempted to invoke a California statute that provides a quick out from frivolous litigation in instances of a defendant's First Amendment rights being threatened. But to take advantage of that statute, a defendant needs to show certain things, and in this instance, a California appeals court has affirmed a lower court by ruling that Menounos hasn't made the necessary showing.
Specifically, California's anti-SLAPP statute provides that a defendant like Menounos first must show that a claim "arises from conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right ... of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.”
Is being in the orbit of celebrities enough to show an issue of public interest?
In the past, in cases ranging from Marlon Brando's retired housekeeper to an employee at one of Finnish celebrity Peter Nygard's companies to a contestant on the television program Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire, the California courts have been fairly expansive in their definition of what's a matter of public interest.
But there are exceptions, and this case appears to be one of them.
Here's the money quote from California appeals judge Steven Suzukawa's opinion:
"At best, the evidence in this case shows there is some public interest in Albanese based on her profession as a celebrity stylist and style expert. But there is no evidence of a public controversy concerning Albanese, Menounos, or Dolce and Gabbana. 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. In short, there is no evidence that any of the disputed remarks were topics of public interest."
We wonder whether the posting of this story is evidence to the contrary, but no matter. Because Menounos can't establish the first prong of the anti-SLAPP statute, the judges won't move on to analyzing whether Albanese is likely to win her lawsuit.
Instead, the lawsuit continues at the trial level.