In Daniel v. Wayans, The California Court of Appeal recently affirmed a trial court’s decision to grant actor Marlon Wayans’ anti-SLAPP motion against Pierre Daniel.
Daniel worked as an extra on the movie A Haunted House 2, which starred Wayans. Daniel filed suit against Wayans and others asserting a number of claims, based in part on allegations that he was the victim of racial harassment, including false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress (“IIED”). Daniel alleged, among other things, that he was subjected to “offensive and derogatory language regarding his race/national origin” and was negatively referred to as “Cleveland Brown,” a cartoon character in the comedy series Family Guy. Daniel claims that Wayans took Daniel’s photograph without his consent and posted it on the internet alongside a photograph of Cleveland Brown, with the caption: “Tell me this [*****] don’t look like . . . THIS [*****]!!! Ol Cleveland Brown ass looking @ahhmovie 2 @whatthefunny I’m hurting!”
Wayans filed an anti-SLAPP motion challenging all of the causes in which he was named as a defendant. The trial court granted the motion, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed.
A claim for false light is a species of defamation and is subject to the same requirements as defamation. The appellate court thus emphasized certain well-settled principles underlying defamation law. Specifically, the Court observed that it must examine the totality of the circumstances in which the statement was made (including its context), and that “[o]pinions are constitutionally protected and cannot form the basis for a defamation-type claim.” Further, “[p]hotographs are not actionable if they are fair and accurate depictions of the person and scene in question, even if they place the person in a less than flattering light, so long as the photographs . . . [are not] highly offensive to persons or ordinary sensibilities.”
Based on these principles, the Court concluded that Daniel had failed to demonstrate that he would prevail on his false light claim. The internet posting referred only to a physical resemblance between Daniel and Cleveland Brown, and was an expression of Wayans’ non-actionable opinion that Daniel looked like the cartoon character. There was no implication that the two shared personality characteristics.
Additionally, in finding that the trial court properly struck Daniel’s IIED claim, the Court concluded that the “boorish and/or juvenile” comments about Daniel’s appearance and the internet post were not so extreme as to exceed all bounds of decency. Rather, such conduct fell within the category of insults, indignities, annoyances, and petty oppressions that are not actionable under a claim for IIED as a matter of law.