You Can't Slapp This: Quotes in Globe Part of Public Process, but Internal Emails Outside Anti-Slapp Law, Appeals Court Holds
When the president of Carney Hospital badmouthed nurses working in the hospital's teen psychiatric ward, those statements were intended to influence a state investigation, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held yesterday.
As such, the comments were protected from a defamation suit by the state's "Anti-Slapp" law, the Massachusetts Appeals Court held.
But similar statements made in an email sent out to hospital employees were not intended to affect the hospital's licensing, and so are liable for a defamation suit, the same court held.
The story in Blanchard v. Stewart-Carney Hospital, Inc. stems back to 2011, when allegations of abuse in the teen psychiatric ward at Carney Hospital surfaced. The state began to investigate. Hoping to stave off any action against its license, hospital administrators retained their own investigators, according to the court.
Those investigators found no instances of abuse among the nurses, but recommended that the hospital clean house by firing a number of nurses in the unit, even though the nurses had worked there for years, the court stated.
The hospital president then made statements to the Boston Globe to the effect that the fired staff had engaged in wrongdoing, the court said. He then made similar statements in a mass email sent out to all the hospital staff, the court said.
The nurses filed a defamation suit against the hospital and its president. The hospital tried to get the suit dismissed by citing the state's "Anti-Slapp" Law. That law protects all speech that is made in furtherance of "petitioning activity." The court held that this basically means that when someone is trying to affect a government outcome, any speech made is protected by that law.
The court found that the statements to the Globe were made, at least in part, to communicate to the state that the hospital was making efforts to address the allegation.
But the same could not be said to the mass email the president sent to the hospital staff, the court held. As such, the defamation case against those statements were allowed to stand.