Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 10 CH 1638 Honorable Lee Preston, JudgePresiding.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Quinn
PRESIDING JUSTICE QUINN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion.
Justices Connors and Harris concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Plaintiffs, Sandi Hammons and The American Institute of Intradermal Cosmetics, Inc, d/b/a Premier Products and Premier Pigments, appeal the circuit court's dismissal of their complaint of defamation, tortious interference with business relationships, consumer fraud and deceptive trade practices against defendants, The Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, Liza Sims, Karla Kwist, Elizabeth Finch-Howell, Kathleen Ciampi and Judy Newdom, after a finding that the Citizen Participation Act (the Act) (735 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2008)) provided defendants with immunity from such claims. Plaintiffs submit that the Act does not apply to the facts of their complaint. Defendants cross-appeal the attorney fee award, arguing that the circuit court improperly limited their fees.
¶ 3 This case involves the application and interpretation of the Act, Illinois's version of an anti-SLAPP statute. The acronym "SLAPP" stands for "Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation" coined by two law professors when referring to a genre of cases involving citizens opposing or supporting some action who petition their government regarding the action only to be sued by the "actor" for defamation and other torts which strain the citizen's resources by directing those resources to defend the lawsuit rather than to their opposition/support efforts. George W. Pring & Penelope Canan, "Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" ("SLAPPs"): An Introduction for Bench, Bar and Bystanders, 12 Bridgeport L. Rev. 937 (1992); see Mark J. Sobczak, SLAPPED in Illinois: The Scope and Applicability of the Illinois Citizen Participation Act, 28 N. Ill. U. L. Rev. 559, 559-60 (2008).
¶ 4 The instant complaint alleges that one of the defendants, on its website entitled "Wake Up In Your Makeup," hosts a blog/message board that was directed and monitored by the individual defendants. Beginning in 2003 and continuing to the present, defendants are alleged to have engaged in a campaign to defame and destroy the reputations of the plaintiffs in the permanent makeup industry by each posting messages on the blog/message board under the online pseudonym "Not Maggie" accusing plaintiffs of bogus and unsanitary training, butchering and defacing customers and using industrial paint in their permanent tattoo pigments, among other comments. Plaintiffs also allege that these blog postings were republished by defendants directly to clients and potential clients of plaintiffs. Plaintiffs further allege that defendants routinely referred people to these blog postings about plaintiffs and defamed plaintiffs in public presentations defendants made at permanent makeup conferences. In summary, plaintiffs allege the defendants openly represent that plaintiffs, and specifically Premier Pigments, "is a joke in the industry" and that defendants' pigments, unlike Premier Pigments, are safe, approved and trusted.
¶ 5 Defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss the entire complaint pursuant to sections 2-615 and 2-619 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2-615, 2-619(a)(5) (West 2008)) as time-barred and for failure to state a valid claim. Certain defendants filed individual motions challenging the court's personal jurisdiction over them. Defendants also filed a separate joint motion arguing in favor of dismissal pursuant to the Act (735 ILCS 110/5 (West 2008)).
¶ 6 In response to defendants' motions, plaintiffs moved to stay the Illinois proceedings until plaintiffs' Miami-Dade County, Florida, lawsuit against the identical defendants for similar claims is ruled on by that court. Hammons v. Society of Permanent Cosmetic Professionals, No. 08-69191-CA-20 (Miami-Dade Co. Cir. Ct. 2008). Plaintiffs also moved to voluntarily dismiss their Illinois lawsuit. Both motions were opposed by the defendants and denied by the circuit court. The circuit court held all motions other than the Act motion in abeyance. Plaintiffs, after being allowed limited discovery pursuant to section 10 of the Act (735 ILCS 110/10 (West 2008)), filed their opposition to defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint.
¶ 7 The circuit court granted defendants' motion without holding whether the comments complained of were made in furtherance of seeking favorable government treatment of their permanent makeup industry. The court dismissed all counts of plaintiffs' complaint based on its holding that plaintiffs were unable to provide "clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the [defendants] are not immunized from, or are not in furtherance of acts immunized from liability under this Act."
¶ 8 Defendants collectively moved for over $66,000 in attorney fees pursuant to section 25 of the Act. 735 ILCS 110/25 (West 2008). The circuit court awarded $8,100 in attorney fees, limiting the defendants' requests to a reasonable amount for the portion of the case that dealt with the application of the Act, as there is no provision for attorney fees for the defendants' many other defensive claims.
¶ 9 Plaintiffs appeal, seeking reversal of the dismissal of their complaint pursuant to the Act and reversal of the award of attorney fees. Defendants cross-appeal, seeking larger attorney fee ...