Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins, No. S04G0613

CourtSupreme Court of Georgia
Writing for the CourtCARLEY, Justice.
Citation278 Ga. 451,603 S.E.2d 289
Decision Date27 September 2004
Docket Number No. S04G0684, No. S04G0613, No. S04G0685.
PartiesATLANTA HUMANE SOCIETY et al. v. HARKINS. Atlanta Humane Society et al. v. Mills.

603 S.E.2d 289
278 Ga. 451

ATLANTA HUMANE SOCIETY et al.
v.
HARKINS.
Atlanta Humane Society et al.
v.
Mills

Nos. S04G0613, S04G0684, S04G0685.

Supreme Court of Georgia.

September 27, 2004.


603 S.E.2d 290
Edward L. Greenblatt, James V. Zito, Janet Leah Bozeman, Lipshutz, Greenblatt & King, Atlanta, for Appellant

Hollie G. Manheimer, Stuckey & Manheimer, Decatur, Gerald R. Weber, Alan I. Begner, Katie K. Wood, Begner & Begner, P.C., Atlanta, for Appellee.

Douglas Paul Haines, Athens, Dion A. Sullivan, Washington, Justine Isabelle Thompson, Craig Lewis Goodmark, Atlanta, Mary Margaret Oliver, Joyner & Burnette, P.C., Decatur, for Amicus(Appellee).

George L. Howell, Howell & Associates, LLC, N.E. Atlanta, William A. Mudd, Saddler Sullivan, P.C., Birmingham, Gary Michael

603 S.E.2d 291
Newberry, Savannah, for Amicus(Appellant)

CARLEY, Justice.

The Atlanta Humane Society (AHS) provided animal control services for Fulton County and the City of Atlanta. During a television news investigation, Barbara Harkins, a former AHS employee, made several statements which the TV station broadcast and which were critical of AHS's methods and procedures and of its executive director, Bill Garrett. Thereafter, Kathi Mills also criticized AHS and Garrett (Appellants) in a series of statements posted on an internet message board. Appellants brought these defamation actions in the Superior Court of Cobb County against Harkins and in the Superior Court of Gwinnett County against Mills (Appellees), but failed to verify the complaints pursuant to the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute. OCGA § 9-11-11.1(b).

The trial courts denied motions to dismiss, because Appellants amended their complaints so as to provide the verifications. The Cobb County court also denied a second motion to dismiss which was based on the substantive contention that Appellants unlawfully initiated the suit in response to Harkins' exercise of her right to free speech. The Gwinnett County court held that any claim by Mills "that OCGA § 9-11-11.1 grants to [her] substantive rights, rather than mere procedural guarantees, which this Court must determine in a preliminary manner prior to this case proceeding to trial is without merit. [Cit.]" In the same order, the Gwinnett County court also granted summary judgment against AHS, finding it to be a governmental entity which cannot bring an action for defamation, and denied the motion for summary judgment as to Garrett, but found that he was a limited-purpose public figure with regard to this controversy.

On interlocutory appeal by Harkins, the Court of Appeals reversed, holding that, "despite compliance with the procedural verification requirements, a claim may still be dismissed based on the substantive protection that the anti-SLAPP statute provides for [278 Ga. 452] persons who exercise their right to free speech." Harkins v. Atlanta Humane Society, 264 Ga.App. 356, 358(1), 590 S.E.2d 737 (2003). On the same basis, the Court of Appeals also reversed the order denying Mills' motion to dismiss. Atlanta Humane Society v. Mills, 264 Ga.App. 597, 591 S.E.2d 423 (2003). In both cases, the Court of Appeals directed the trial court, upon receipt of the remittitur, to dismiss the complaint because the undisputed facts of record showed that Appellees had a substantive right to comment on this matter of public concern. Harkins v. Atlanta Humane Society, supra at 360(2), 590 S.E.2d 737; Atlanta Humane Society v. Mills, supra. The Court of Appeals further held that the summary judgment rulings with respect to the claims against Mills were moot. Atlanta Humane Society v. Mills, supra at 598, 591 S.E.2d 423.

This Court granted certiorari and consolidated the cases, in order to review the Court of Appeals' analysis of the anti-SLAPP statute. We conclude that OCGA § 9-11-11.1(b) authorizes the dismissal of a claim if it is falsely verified. However, dismissal cannot be based solely on evidence that the claim involves statements in furtherance of the right of free speech or the right to petition the government, in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a governmental body. Once the trial court makes that threshold decision, it cannot dismiss the claim unless it also determines that (a) the claimant or his attorney did not reasonably believe that the claim was well grounded in fact and that it was warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the modification of existing law, (b) the claim was interposed for an improper purpose, or (c) the defendant's statements were privileged pursuant to OCGA § 51-5-7(4). Because the Court of Appeals failed to conclude that the undisputed facts showed any of these additional statutory requirements, we reverse the judgments and remand the cases to the Court of Appeals for further examination of the records in light of this opinion and for consideration of remaining enumerations of error.

1. Although anti-SLAPP statutes vary significantly, they typically provide "for an

603 S.E.2d 292
early means of testing the bona fides of the plaintiff's claim and for some combination of costs, legal fees and damages to be awarded to the defendant for the plaintiff's initiation of groundless litigation." (Emphasis supplied.) PLI, Sack on Defamation, § 10.11.2 (2003). As stated in OCGA § 9-11-11.1(a), the purposes of Georgia's anti-SLAPP statute are to encourage citizen participation in matters of public significance through the exercise of the right of free speech and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances, and to prevent their valid exercise from being chilled through abuse of the judicial process. To accomplish these purposes, "[ [278 Ga. 453] t]he crucial statutory provision is OCGA § 9-11-11.1(b). . . ." Denton v. Browns Mill Development Co., 275 Ga. 2, 4, 561 S.E.2d 431 (2002) (quoting subsection (b) in full).

The first two sentences of subsection (b) require only that the claimant file a written verification containing several certifications. The third sentence, which requires that the claim be stricken unless verified within ten days, applies "[i]f the claim is not verified as required by this subsection. . . ." Thus, the third sentence applies whenever a verification fails to comply with each procedural requisite set forth in the first two sentences, regardless of whether "the verification is completely omitted or merely deficient upon filing. . . ." Hawks v. Hinely, 252 Ga.App. 510, 515(1)(c), 556 S.E.2d 547 (2001). However, "verification does not end the matter" because the trial "court can ultimately reject the verification...." Denton v. Browns Mill Development Co., supra at 7, ...

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30 practice notes
  • Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, Civil Action No. 1:06-CV-2897-JOF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • September 21, 2007
    ...and to prevent their valid exercise from being chilled through abuse of the judicial process. Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins, 278 Ga. 451, 452, 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). In order to achieve these goals, the statute requires that written verification under oath accompany any claim asserted a......
  • Rogers v. Dupree, A16A1714
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 16, 2017
    ...and to prevent their valid exercise from being chilled through abuse of the judicial process." Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins , 278 Ga. 451, 452 (1), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). See OCGA § 9-11-11.1 (a).7 SLAPP suits are typically tort actions that depend on a claim of damages, real or otherw......
  • Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Inc. v. Ichthus Cmty. Trust, Nos. S15A1021
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • November 23, 2015
    ...OCGA § 9–11–11.1, it must be privileged pursuant to OCGA § 51–5–7(4). See OCGA § 9–11–11.1(b) ; Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins, 278 Ga. 451(2), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). OCGA § 51–5–7(4) provides that the following statements are privileged: "[s]tatements made in good faith as part of an ac......
  • Rogers v. Dupree, A16A1714
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 15, 2019
    ...statute, however, applies to this case, which was filed several years before the 2016 amendment. See Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins , 278 Ga. 451, 454 (1), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004) (noting the "substantive" nature of the anti-SLAPP statute); Stock Building Supply v. Platte River Ins. Co. , ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
30 cases
  • Adventure Outdoors, Inc. v. Bloomberg, Civil Action No. 1:06-CV-2897-JOF.
    • United States
    • United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. United States District Courts. 11th Circuit. Northern District of Georgia
    • September 21, 2007
    ...and to prevent their valid exercise from being chilled through abuse of the judicial process. Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins, 278 Ga. 451, 452, 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). In order to achieve these goals, the statute requires that written verification under oath accompany any claim asserted a......
  • Rogers v. Dupree, A16A1714
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 16, 2017
    ...and to prevent their valid exercise from being chilled through abuse of the judicial process." Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins , 278 Ga. 451, 452 (1), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). See OCGA § 9-11-11.1 (a).7 SLAPP suits are typically tort actions that depend on a claim of damages, real or otherw......
  • Metro Atlanta Task Force for the Homeless, Inc. v. Ichthus Cmty. Trust, Nos. S15A1021
    • United States
    • Supreme Court of Georgia
    • November 23, 2015
    ...OCGA § 9–11–11.1, it must be privileged pursuant to OCGA § 51–5–7(4). See OCGA § 9–11–11.1(b) ; Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins, 278 Ga. 451(2), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004). OCGA § 51–5–7(4) provides that the following statements are privileged: "[s]tatements made in good faith as part of an ac......
  • Rogers v. Dupree, A16A1714
    • United States
    • United States Court of Appeals (Georgia)
    • March 15, 2019
    ...statute, however, applies to this case, which was filed several years before the 2016 amendment. See Atlanta Humane Society v. Harkins , 278 Ga. 451, 454 (1), 603 S.E.2d 289 (2004) (noting the "substantive" nature of the anti-SLAPP statute); Stock Building Supply v. Platte River Ins. Co. , ......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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