Illinois Supreme Court Upholds Immunity Granted in Citizen Participation Act

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By Jeffrey Gould, General Counsel for the Saint Consulting Group

This past week the Illinois Supreme Court issued a sweeping decision upholding the immunity granted under the Illinois Citizen Participation Act, stating that the Act must be construed broadly to afford citizens the protection of the First Amendment’s right to free speech and petitioning of the government without fear of SLAPP suits. Chief Justice Fitzgerald delivered the judgment of the court with opinion in Wright Development Group versus Walsh, which can be accessed using the link below.

In 2006, various persons and entities responsible for the conversion of the Chicago building at 6030 North Sheridan Road into condominiums were sued for fraud by the condominium owners’ association. Included among the defendants were Andrew Wright, James Wright, Wright Management, LLC, and Sixty Thirty LLC, all of whom had the same business address. That address was also shared by another company, Wright Development Group, LLC, which was not named as a defendant. It is the plaintiff here.

In 2007, a public meeting took place at the office of the 48th ward alderman to discuss legislation directed at abuses by condominium developers. John Walsh, the defendant here and a resident at 6030 N. Sheridan, was present and made statements to a reporter after the meeting. Later, he and two newspapers which published his remarks were sued for defamation by the Wright Development Group LLC. Walsh claimed that he was protected by the Citizen Participation Act of Illinois because the defamation suit was a “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” or a “SLAPP.” The circuit court of Cook County did not agree with this, but did grant a motion to dismiss the defamation action under the innocent construction rule because of the confusion concerning names. Walsh appealed, seeking the attorney fees he might have been awarded under the Citizen Participation Act, but the appellate court found the matter to be moot.

In this decision, the Supreme Court held that both courts below had erred. Walsh is protected by the Illinois Citizen Participation Act. The cause was remanded to the circuit court for the making of an award to him of attorney fees and costs. Click here for full decision Wright Development Group LLC v Walsh

Jeffrey Gould is vice president and general counsel for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 781.749.7290 Ext: 7115

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