Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division
The trial court erred in dismissing plaintiff’s defamation action based on defendants’ ads against plaintiff’s candidacy for a position as an alderman on the ground that the action was barred by the Citizen Participation Act, since defendants failed to show that plaintiff’s claims were meritless and therefore did not meet their burden of proving that the suit was a “SLAPP” action, but the cause was remanded for consideration of the other grounds for dismissal asserted by defendants.
Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 11-L-4012; the Hon. Michael R. Panter, Judge, presiding.
Lawrence Wolf Levin and Michelle M. Truesdale, both of Law Offices of Lawrence Wolf Levin, of Chicago, for appellant.
David T. Arena, of Dimonte & Lizak, LLC, of Park Ridge, for appellees John Arena and Citizens to Elect John Arena.
Laurence E. Gold, of Trister, Ross, Schadler & Gold, PLLC, of Washington, D.C., for appellee Unite Here Local 1.
Michael J. Kasper, of Chicago, Michael Kreloff, of Glenview, and Sally H. Saltzberg, of Lake Barrington, for appellee Service Employees International Union Illinois Council PAC.
Douglas N. Masters, Thomas P. Jirgal, and Stacy A. Howard, all of Loeb & Loeb LLP, of Chicago, for appellee Comcast Corporation.
Panel JUSTICE CONNORS delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Quinn and Simon concurred in the judgment and opinion.
¶ 1 Plaintiff John Garrido lost the 2011 aldermanic election for Chicago's 45th Ward to defendant John Arena, who was backed in the campaign by the remaining defendants (with the exception of defendant Comcast Corporation). During the campaign, defendants disseminated campaign literature and advertisements that contained what plaintiff claims are outright lies. After losing the election, plaintiff filed this defamation lawsuit, but the circuit court dismissed the case under the Citizen Participation Act (735 ILCS 110/1 et seq. (West 2010)). We reverse and remand.
¶ 2 I. BACKGROUND
¶ 3 In 2011, plaintiff and Arena competed in a runoff election to become alderman for the 45th Ward. The campaign was hard fought and the election was extremely close, with Arena winning by only 30 votes in the official final tally. During the campaign, several organizations distributed campaign advertisements in support of Arena. Four of those organizations are defendants in this case: Service Employees International Union Illinois Council PAC (SEIU), Chicago Federation of Labor & UIC (CFL), Unite Here Local 1 (Local 1), and Citizens to Elect John Arena (CEJA). The fifth, defendant Comcast Corporation, is the parent company of the broadcaster that carried one of SEIU's television advertisements.
¶ 4 Plaintiff and Arena each won a plurality of the votes in the February 2011 general municipal election, but because neither won more than 50% of the total votes they were scheduled to compete in a runoff election to be held in April 2011. Arena and his supporters ran television advertisements and sent out direct mailings to the electorate in the hope of winning voters to their side. Some of the ads and mailings painted an unflattering picture of plaintiff.
¶ 5 Seven of these mailings and one television advertisement are at issue in this case. The ads presented two core allegations against plaintiff. First, the ads alleged that plaintiff had received money from a parking meter company that was involved in a highly publicized and much-debated privatization deal with the city of Chicago in early 2009. The ads essentially alleged that plaintiff had taken money from the company and insinuated that he had profited from the deal. For example, CFL sent out a mailer that featured plaintiff's picture superimposed over a parking meter alongside the words, "We pay. Republican John Garrido profits." Another ad from the same mailer contained the headline, "John Garrido Takes Money from Parking Meter Company. We Pay the Price." An ad sent out by SEIU stated, "Republican John Garrido took money from the company that brought us the parking meter deal." Another ad from CEJA ...