Wilkes & McHugh, P.A., v. LTC Consulting, L.P. et al.Annotate this Case
This case presented for the Georgia Supreme Court’s review an issue of first impression: the effects of the General Assembly’s wholesale revision in 2016 of the anti-SLAPP statute, OCGA 9-11-11.1, which substantially mirrored California Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. LTC Consulting, L.P. and two affiliated entities sued law firm Wilkes & McHugh, P.A. and one of its attorneys for violations of OCGA 31-7-3.2 (j), deceptive trade practices, and false advertising after the defendants ran full-page advertisements in local newspapers targeting patients of nursing homes owned by the plaintiffs. The defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss or to Strike Pursuant to OCGA sections 9-11-11.1 and 9-11-12 (b) (6), arguing among other things that OCGA 31-7-3.2 (j), enacted in 2015, violated the First Amendment. The motion was filed the day before a previously scheduled injunction hearing, but the trial court considered the defendants’ motion and denied it. The defendants appealed to the Court of Appeals, which transferred the case to the Georgia Supreme Court. The Supreme Court concluded the defendants met their burden under OCGA 9-11-11.1 to show that the plaintiffs’ claims were ones arising from acts that could reasonably be construed as acts in furtherance of the defendants’ right of free speech under the United States Constitution in connection with an issue of public interest or concern, thereby triggering the application of OCGA 9-11-11.1. The burden then shifted to the plaintiffs to establish that there was a probability that they would prevail on their claims. However, in analyzing these claims, the parties did not argue, and the trial court did not properly apply, the new standards for anti-SLAPP motions. Judgment was vacated and the matter remanded for reconsideration of the anti-SLAPP motion under the proper standards.