Dahlia Rudavsky Argues Before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on Anti-SLAPP Matter
On November 7th, Messing, Rudavsky & Weliky, P.C. founding partner Dahlia Rudavsky argued before the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (“SJC”) on behalf of her clients, a group of nurses formerly employed by Steward Carney Hospital. The case arose after a series of patient incidents in the hospital’s adolescent psychiatry unit led Carney management to hire outside consultants to perform a “management review.” Acting on the consultants’ report, hospital management terminated most of the unit’s work force, including nurses with no disciplinary history or involvement in the incidents.
After the firings, the hospital’s president sent an email to all hospital employees in which he wrongly faulted the nurses and other employees for the incidents. He later made similar remarks to a Boston Globe reporter. MRW lawyers Dahlia Rudavsky and Ellen Messing sued the hospital, claiming that these remarks defamed the nurses and severely damaged their professional reputations and ability to find work elsewhere.
The hospital asked the trial court to dismiss the defamation portion of the suit because the nurses’ claim would undercut the hospital’s free speech lobbying of the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health (“DMH”) to keep the adolescent unit open. To do so, the hospital filed a special “anti-SLAPP” motion. (“SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation,” and SLAPP motions were originally designed to protect environmental protesters from being groundlessly sued for opposing large commercial developments and the like.)
The superior court denied the hospital’s motion because, among other reasons, it held that the hospital could not show that the email to employees was ever sent to the DMH, or that the hospital needed to use the Globe to reach the DMH, since its lawyers were in direct contact with the agency. The hospital appealed, and the case has ended up in front of the state’s highest court, the SJC.
The hospital’s lawyer, Jeffrey Dretler, argues for the first fifteen minutes, then Dahlia Rudavsky argues on behalf of the nurses. Ms. Rudavsky argues, in response to spirited questioning from the judges, that the hospital president’s remarks were not “petitioning” aimed at DMH and should not be protected.
Follow the link below to watch a video recording of the full oral arguments.