The Oregon Supreme Court recently reversed the Oregon Court of Appeals in Neumann v. Liles, a defamation lawsuit involving a negative review of a wedding venue. The plaintiff, an operator of the venue, was the target of a review on google.com calling her, among other things, "two faced, crooked, and . . . rude." She sued the author of the review, who had been a guest at a wedding hosted at plaintiff's venue. The Oregon Court of Appeals found that the trial court improperly granted the defendant's special motion to strike under Oregon's anti-SLAPP statute, finding that the review contained potentially defamatory statements regarding the plaintiff's honesty and business ethics.
In reversing the Oregon Court of Appeals, the Oregon Supreme Court announced a framework, adopted from the Ninth Circuit, for analyzing whether a defamatory statement is entitled to First Amendment protection. The first question is whether the statement involves a matter of public concern. If it does, then the dispositive question is whether a reasonable factfinder could conclude that the statement implies an assertion of objective fact. To answer that question, the following three-part inquiry must be applied: (1) whether the general tenor of the entire publication negates the impression that the defendant was asserting an objective fact; (2) whether the defendant used figurative or hyperbolic language that negates that impression; and (3) whether the statement in question is susceptible of being proved true or false.
Considering the content of the review as a whole, the Oregon Supreme Court held that a reasonable factfinder could not conclude that the defendant's review implied an assertion of objective fact; rather, the review expressed an opinion on matters of public concern that is protected under the First Amendment. On that basis, the Supreme Court concluded that the trial court properly dismissed the defamation lawsuit.