Atlanta Humane Society sues former employee for defamation

The Humane Society sued a former employee/whistleblower for defamation seeking $250,000. The Atlanta Humane Society argued that the employee defamed them when she made statements to a television reporter that the Human Society made misleading claims and failed to engage in animal cruelty investigations.

The ACLU of Georgia defended the employee and moved to have the suit dismissed under the Georgia anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Policy”) law. The anti-SLAPP statute is designed to protect citizens victimized by lawsuits aimed at silencing their speech. The trial court denied the SLAPP motion but the Georgia Court of Appeals reversed this decision. The Georgia Supreme Court then heard the case and agreed with the Court of Appeals' ruling, but remanded the case for the Court of Appeals to further explore whether Harkins' statements were made in good faith. On June 1st, 2005, the Court of Appeals found that because Harkins' statements were in good faith, the lawsuit brought upon her by AHS had to be dismissed under the anti-SLAPP statute.

The issue at stake was whether the anti-SLAPP statute was satisfied when the Humane Society filed an affidavit claiming the lawsuit was brought in good faith and well grounded in law and fact, or if the court could look behind the affidavit to see if it was accurate. The Supreme Court of Georgia confirmed that the Courts do not have to take the affidavit at face value.

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