5:59pm PT by Austin Siegemund-Broka
Judge Trims Lawsuit From 'Dance Moms' Star Kelly Hyland and Daughters
The lawsuit filed by Kelly Hyland and her two daughters against their Dance Moms co-star Abby Lee Miller and the reality show’s production company will go ahead without its claims of defamation or infliction of emotional distress.
The decision, from Los Angeles Superior Court judge Ruth Ann Kwan, closely follows what the judge indicated in hearings in August. In the Friday ruling, she permits several other claims from the Hylands, including negligence and breach of contract.
The Hylands sued Miller, whose dance studio is the focus of the Lifetime series, and Collins Avenue Entertainment in February with a complaint that claims $5 million in damages (and includes allegations of assault). The defendants responded with several motions to strike, which they premised on California’s anti-SLAPP statute, a law that protects free speech from frivolous lawsuits. The reality series is covered by SLAPP, so the burden was shifted to the Hylands to prove their claims were likely to succeed in court.
That wasn’t the case with their claims of infliction of emotional distress, the judge found. The Hylands’ lawsuit accuses Miller of a “domineering and often bullying and insulting leadership style” that traumatizes her students, including Paige and Brooke Hyland. Miller threw a chair in one confrontation with Paige, the complaint claims, and would often bring the girls to tears. Her treatment allegedly caused Paige to begin having panic attacks, which led school counselors to conclude "that Paige was being bullied by Miller."
Kwan didn’t buy it. In August, she noted that there is no psychiatric diagnosis that ties the girls' anxiety to Dance Moms. "That's assuming nothing else goes on in the life of a young child," she said.
The defamation claims arose from an altercation between Miller and Kelly Hyland in November 2013. An argument escalated over a competition, and Miller allegedly "repeatedly lunged toward Kelly, gnashing her teeth loudly attempting to bite Kelly," causing Hyland to slap Miller and pull her hair. Hyland was arrested and charged with assault.
In interviews following the incident, Miller allegedly implied that Hyland is an unfit mother and an alcoholic and said that Hyland had pulled out clumps of her hair. The Hylands claimed the remarks are defamatory.
But Kwan wasn’t convinced. The statements about Hyland’s competency as a mother wouldn’t likely be found slanderous because they were subjective rather than factual, the judge said. While the Hylands’ attorneys, Michael Shapiro and Marcus Jackson, argued the accusation of hair-pulling rises to the standard of defamation because Miller said Hyland actually pulled out clumps of her hair, a criminal offense, Kwan argued a jury wouldn’t likely make the same distinction.
The conflict has perhaps unsurprisingly led to a dispute over the Hylands’ contract and appearances on the reality series. The Hylands say they’ve only made "sporadic appearances" in recent episodes, but they contend they’re still owed weekly compensation for the episodes in which they were available to appear (“at [Collins’] beck and call,” their complaint reads). They claim they’re owed an assortment of other sums too, like a weekly babysitting allowance and $21,000 for damage to the floor of their house. Those claims stand a chance of succeeding, Kwan felt.
The assault claim — filed by Kelly against Miller for threatening her in their November fight — is still in play. In October, Paige Hyland filed her own assault claim against Miller, which is currently set for a jury trial in April 2016.
Miller’s attorney, Jordan Grotzinger, of Greenberg Traurig, declined to comment, while the Hylands' reps were contacted but did not wish to comment immediately. Representatives for Collins Avenue did not respond to requests for comment.