Swinging and SLAPPs

Johnson v. Ryan, No. 31837-1-III (Wash. Ct. App. Mar. 19, 2015). 

Washington Court of Appeals SLAPP

The Spokane Civic Theatre hired James Ryan as its music director. Ryan and his wife had a non-monogamous relationship, and Ryan used Craigslist to look for sexual relationships outside of his marriage. All of this was disclosed to the Theatre by an anonymous email. 

In response, the Theatre’s artistic director, Yvonne Johnson, fired Ryan—not, she said, because of his swinging, but because this was Spokane and the Theatre didn’t want to offend donors. In the aftermath of his firing, Ryan took to blogging. He criticized Johnsons management of the Theatre, accused her of lying about why he was fired, and encouraged those who were thinking about hiring Johnson to contact him first. 

Johnson sued Ryan for tortious interference and defamation. Ryan responded with a motion to strike under Washington’s anti-SLAPP law—a motion that the trial court granted.

The anti-SLAPP law allows for the early dismissal of claims based on an action involving “public participation and petition”—a term the law defines rather broadly. Did Ryan’s blogging involve “public participation and petition” within the meaning of the statute? The lead opinion says “no,” because his blogging was not about matters of public concern. A concurrence agrees. A dissent by Judge Fearing, however, makes the case that Ryan’s blogging did, in fact, contain elements of public concern. 

This may not be the end of the case. I would not be surprised if the Supreme Court decides to grant review.