McGarry v. University of San Diego, 154 Cal. App. 4th 97 (2007)

Following the termination of Kevin McGarry’s employment as head coach of USD’s football team, two university officials allegedly commented to the San Diego Union Tribune newspaper about the reasons for the termination. In response to these statements, McGarry sued the university and the officials for defamation. Defendants responded with successful motions to strike the defamation claims pursuant to the anti-SLAPP provisions of California law (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16). The Court of Appeal affirmed the dismissal of the defamation claims, holding that the alleged statements constituted speech in connection with a public issue within the meaning of the statute. Once the burden shifted to McGarry, the Court of Appeal agreed with the trial court that he had failed to show the likelihood of success on the merits in light of the standards applicable to a limited purpose public figure like himself. The Court further determined that one of the alleged statements was not a provably false assertion of fact. Moreover, since the trial court had denied McGarry’s motion to compel the depositions of the newspaper’s reporters, he had no competent evidence that the university or its officials were the source of the statements that were published in the newspaper.