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Last year, Malibu property owner Bijan Shahmoradi sued producers of the Bravo reality series Bethenny Ever After, claiming his home was illegally invaded to film episodes in violation of his privacy. The plaintiff appears to have failed in his lawsuit claiming more than $25,000 and punitive damages. In advance of a hearing on Friday, a California judge has tentatively agreed to a motion submitted by NBC Universal and Shed Media to strike the lawsuit on free-speech grounds.
Private property is most often private. But when a big reality TV star like Bethenny Frankel sets up house and is trailed by a bunch of TV cameras, that same property becomes a matter of public interest. Or so the producers of Bethenny Ever After argued in this strange case.
Shahmoradi brought his lawsuit in November after two of his tenants on a Pacific Coast Highway property overlooking the ocean subleased the place to producers in an alleged violation of the original lease agreement. The plaintiff asserted that NBC and Shed Media demonstrated “reckless disregard” by failing to inquire about the true owner of the property and publishing the interior of his home without consent.
“Such publication of the interior of the property was not a matter of public concern,” he said in the complaint.
But LA Superior Court judge Michael Johnson disagrees with that statement.
In a tentative order accepting the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion, the judge notes that the Bravo show is is “a widely viewed television program” that follows the activities of Frankel, a “pop culture figure who has published books, developed and promoted products, and has been featured in other television programs.”
The judge quotes a 1962 decision by a California appeals court well before the era of reality TV but perhaps more true now than ever. The quote reads, ” “[T]here is a public interest which attaches to people who by their accomplishments, mode of living, professional standing or calling, create a legitimate and widespread attention to their activities.”
In the case, the judge has to weigh the property owner’s privacy versus the media defendants’ free speech, and Shahmoradi appears to come out on the losing end.
“Plaintiff has also argued that while Frankel may be a subject of public interest, his property is not,” writes Judge Johnson. “But of course, Bethenny Ever After was not an architectural program that focused on Plaintiff’s house. It was a reality show that focused on Frankel, and the house served as a mere backdrop to her activities.”
Shahmoradi may try to get a judge to reconsider at a hearing today, but in all likelihood, he has failed in his attempts to get an injunction that orders Bravo to stop airing any show that features his private property thrust into the unwanted glare of reality television.
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