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NEW YORK APPELLATE COURT AFFIRMS SLAPP SUIT DISMISSAL AND ATTORNEY FEE AWARD

new york map magnifiedSouthampton Day Camp Realty, LLC v. Gormon, 2014 WL 2871806 (App. Div., NY) involved the appeal of a decision by the Chief Building Inspector of the Town of Southampton that a nonconforming tennis and racquet club could be converted into a children’s day camp without a variance.  Defendants were neighbors who opposed that conversion without a variance and appealed the Chief Inspector’s decision to the Board of Zoning appeals.  Defendants also distributed a flyer which suggested that Plaintiffs did not care about the environmental effects of the conversion and had lied to town officials.  Plaintiffs then sued Defendants for defamation.  Defendants moved to dismiss the suit, contending that the action constituted a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) suit and sought dismissal, attorneys’ fees and punitive damages.  Before discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment on their complaint and the counterclaim.  The Trial Court dismissed the complaint and awarded attorneys’ fees, but denied Defendant’s request for punitive damages.  Both parties appealed.

The Appellate Division noted that New York’s SLAPP Suit litigation entitles a qualified defendant to dismissal, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs.  A plaintiff must demonstrate that the lawsuit has a “substantial basis in fact and law or is supported by a substantial argument for an extension, modification or reversal of existing law.”  Defendants demonstrated that Plaintiffs were permit applicants and their communication was “materially related” to their efforts to report or comment upon, or oppose, this application and the communication was part of an effort to garner support for their opposition.

The Appellate Division ag

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