The Superior Court of San Francisco County ruled that Wilbanks’ suit against Wolk should be dismissed under California’s anti-SLAPP laws, and that Wolk should receive $7,000 for legal expenses. Wilbanks then appealed to the California Court of Appeals.
The appeals court explained that to win an anti-SLAPP suit, Wolk’s statements had to be made in a public forum and be put forward in the public interest. The court ruled that Wolk’s website could be considered a public forum, and informing consumers about the risk of viatical settlements fell within the public interest requirement for an anti-SLAPP suit. But for Wolk to win, the court also had to find that Wilbanks did not have a probability of winning his defamation case.
Wilbanks had to convince the court that, if all his claims were believed at trial, he would win. With this in mind, the court found that even though Wolk’s claims stated the truth about the case against Wilbanks and the Department of Insurance investigation, she had distorted those facts by omitting key information.
The court said, “It appears that Wolk did not check with plaintiffs before publishing the material. She knew that the judgment was in the small claims court. She apparently knew that the Department of Insurance would investigate any complaint submitted to it, and therefore was aware that an investigation by the department did not establish that the complaint had validity. Wolk’s refusal to discuss [her claims] with Wilbanks could be viewed as demonstrating a lack of interest in the truth.”
The court found that Wilbanks did have a chance of winning his suit against Wolk, and reversed the lower court decision.
Having lost her anti-SLAPP suit, Wolk was faced with a trial accusing her of defamation. After spending thousands of dollars, and untold hours of her time, Wolk settled the case with Wilbanks.
Wolk’s website still contains information about unscrupulous viatical settlement companies and brokers, but Scott Wilbanks is not mentioned anywhere.
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Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.
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