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Shapiro v. Welt

Supreme Court of Nevada

February 2, 2017

HOWARD SHAPIRO; AND JENNASHAPIRO, Appellants/Cross-Respondents,
v.
GLEN WELT; RHODA WELT; LYNNWELT; AND MICHELLE WELT, Respondents/Cross-Appellants. GLEN WELT; RHODA WELT; LYNNWELT; AND MICHELLE WELT, Appellants,
v.
HOWARD SHAPIRO; AND JENNASHAPIRO, Respondents.

         Consolidated appeals and a cross-appeal from a district court order granting a motion to dismiss complaint based on anti-SLAPP statutes and the awarding of attorney fees and costs. Eighth Judicial District Court, Clark County; Nancy L. Allf, Judge.

         Affirmed in part, reversed in part, vacated in part, and remanded with instructions.

          G Law and Alex B. Ghibaudo, Las Vegas, for Howard Shapiro and Jenna Shapiro.

          Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, and Michael P. Lowry, Las Vegas, for Glen Welt, Rhoda Welt, Lynn Welt, and Michelle Welt.

          Randazza Legal Group, PLLC, and Marc J. Randazza, Las Vegas, for Amici Curiae Nevada Press Association; TripAdvisor, Inc.; and Yelp, Inc.

          BEFORE CHERRY, C.J., DOUGLAS and GIBBONS, JJ.

          OPINION

          GIBBONS, J.

         In this appeal, we are asked to decide (1) whether NRS 41.637 is unconstitutionally vague, (2) whether statements made in relation to a conservatorship action constitute an issue of public interest under NRS 41.637(4), and (3) whether those statements fall within the scope of the absolute litigation privilege.

         We conclude that (1) NRS 41.637 is not unconstitutionally vague; (2) the district court must analyze the statements under guiding principles enunciated in California law to determine if a statement is an issue of public interest; and (3) the district court must conduct a case-specific, fact-intensive inquiry that balances the underlying principles of the absolute litigation privilege as enunciated by Jacobs v. Adelson, 130 Nev.? Adv. Op. 44, 325 P.3d 1282, 1284 (2014), prior to determining whether a party has met their burden for proving a likelihood of success on the merits. Accordingly, we affirm in part, reverse in part, vacate in part, and remand with instructions.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Appellant Howard Shapiro petitioned a New Jersey court to appoint him as conservator for his father, Walter Shapiro. The respondents, Glen Welt, Rhoda Welt, Lynn Welt, and Michelle Welt, opposed the petition. During the course of the conservatorship matter, Howard received an email from Glen stating that Howard's "actions have been deemed worthy of [his] own website" and declaring that Glen was "personally inviting EVERY one of [Howard's] known victims to appear in court along with other caretakers, neighbors!, ] acquaintances [J and relatives [Howard] threatened." The Welts published a website that contained several allegations regarding Howard's past debts, criminal history, and alleged mistreatment of his father, in addition to Howard's personal information. Further, the website stated that it is "dedicated to helping victims of Howard Andrew Shapiro & warning others" and encouraged any person "with knowledge of Howard A. Shapiro's actions against Walter Shapiro or other illegal acts committed by Howard Shapiro ... to appear in court."

         Howard and Jenna Shapiro filed a complaint in Nevada alleging various causes of action related to the Welts' statements on the website. The Shapiros' causes of action included, among other allegations, defamation per se, defamation, extortion, civil conspiracy, and fraud. The Welts subsequently filed a motion to dismiss pursuant to NRS 41.660, Nevada's anti-SLAPP statute. The Welts argued that the website constituted a good-faith communication in furtherance of the right to free speech in direct connection with an issue of public concern pursuant to NRS 41.637. Citing to NRS 41.637(3) and (4), the Welts argued that the statements on the website were protected as statements made in direct connection with an issue under consideration by a judicial body and as communications made in direct connection with an issue of public interest in a place open to the public or in a public forum.

         The district court issued an order granting the Welts' motion to dismiss. The district court concluded that the Welts met their burden to show by a preponderance of the evidence that the Shapiros' complaint was filed in an attempt to prevent a good-faith communication in connection with an issue of public concern. Specifically, the district court concluded that the website was a "communication regarding an ongoing lawsuit concerning the rights of an elderly individual, and a matter of public concern under NRS 41.637(4)." Additionally, the district court concluded that the Shapiros failed to show a probability that they would prevail on the lawsuit. The district court relied on this court's decision in Jacobs to conclude that the Welts' statements would likely be protected by the absolute litigation privilege.

         The district court subsequently issued an order granting the Welts' attorney fees. The district court did not explicitly address the Welts' request for an additional award pursuant to NRS 41.670(1)(b).

         The Shapiros timely appealed the district court's order granting the Welts' motion to dismiss, the Welts cross-appealed that part of the district court's order denying an additional award pursuant to NRS 41.670(1)(b), and the Welts timely ...


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