Libel Litigation in … Disneyland Social Clubs

Banal law, but fun facts.

|The Volokh Conspiracy |

Yesterday's California Court of Appeal Sarno v. Bailes decision strikes me as a pretty routine libel, invasion of privacy, and anti-SLAPP case—except for the background:

Disneyland enthusiasts created unincorporated associations to socialize with each other in the park.  The social clubs were named for a Disney character or theme, and in the park, members wear clothing, etc., identifying their club.  The social clubs maintain Web pages on social media platforms.  Two of the social clubs are "The Main St. Fire 55 Social Club" (MSF) and the "White Rabbits Social Club" (WR).

Also relevant, "the social club 'The Mermaids,'" and a 12-year-old daughter of a Mermaids member who is charmingly referred to as Little Doe (Bambi's sister, maybe?). Unfortunately, things turn far less happiest-place-on-Earth from there; the opinion offers all the grim details.

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  1. From a guest perspective I don’t get the legendary appeal of Disneyland. Its overcrowded and overpriced. Its much more fascinating from a psychological perspective, as especially in the park you’re surrounded by the world’s most successful and detailed advertisement.

    1. Its overcrowded and overpriced

      If it was over crowded then its not overpriced. If anything – its not priced high enough.

      1. From a sensible person looking for somewhere to go perspective not a Disney financial optimization perspective.

      2. Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there any more. It’s too crowded.”

        1. I said I don’t get it. I didn’t say they were unprofitable. Part of what makes them fascinating from a psychological standpoint is how much of a grip they have on a large chunk of the population going to see Avenger Rehash IVXIIIL, while purposely driving so many of their franchises into the ground with genderwoke politics and creatively bankrupt remakes.

        2. Sam Malone: A lot of people might not know this, but I happen to be quite famous.

    2. “From a guest perspective I don’t get the legendary appeal of Disneyland.”

      The primary appeal is A) if you currently or recently provided care for a 4-year-old child, or B) if you can recall being a 4-year-old child.

      Disneyland is designed to entertain a 4-year-old child.

      1. Exactly.
        Walt made it a place that adults could just enjoy being a kid again especially with their own kids!

        Hell, I even went to DisneyWorld again with both my daughter and grandson just a couple of years ago.

        1. If you aren’t currently a child, or childish, Disneyland isn’t designed for you. And even then, I went as a small child. All the signs that say “you must be this tall to go on this fun ride” pointed to a point above my head.

          I went again later. The most fun I had was trying to get the cast member playing Snow White to break character whenever there were no kids about the courtyard.

  2. [From the court’s opinion]
    “…How is accessing, obtaining, distributing, and posting Leslee’s medical records an issue of public interest? Defendants offer no explanation as to how Leslee’s medical records would reveal
    whether she engaged in fraud or stole fundraiser money. Or was their goal more sinister—did they merely want to humiliate her because they felt she was complicit in John’s conduct. . . .”

    Eugene, Is this common in an appellate court opinion? I’ve read, by this point, hundreds of opinions, and I do not recall courts often asking a question and then answering it. I think it is an effective and clear method of writing, so I like its usage here. But is it common?
    (And a separate grammar nitpick: I think at the end of the above quote, it should be a question mark and not a period at the very end. Tiny error in the appellate opinion, methinks.)

    1. Santamonica, the bit you quoted didn’t ask a question and then answer it, it asked a question and then failed to answer it, a pattern that I think is pretty common. Or am I misreading you somehow?

      1. Voize,
        I thought the court answered the first question it asked. But maybe not. I was in law school decades ago, and that (naturally) is where I read most decisions. But I have read a good number of decisions while in practice. And I do not recall it being common for an appellate court to write out a question and then give the answer…

        1. …[I was only allow to enter a few hundred characters, apparently; so my last post continues here …weird…]…

          I think I made it clear that I like this sort of writing. It is a way of framing an issue clearly, and of course it’s done all the time in trial courts, in closing arguments for example.
          But if everyone is telling me, “Nope, it is actually really commonplace in appellate decisions, then I’ll happily admit that I was wrong.” 🙂

  3. So were federal HIPPA charges filed?

    1. As the spouse of a Kaiser employee I expect that someone is no longer employed by Kaiser. All inquires into medical records are tracked and recorded.

      Do you mean federal criminal charges? I’m not sure if there is a criminal sanction for a HIPPA violation like this. I would assume its included in the invasion of privacy state cause of action.

      1. Criminal violation; Tier 3: Obtaining PHI for personal gain or with malicious intent – Up to 10 years in jail

    2. Maybe not although it wouldn’t surprise me if the DOJ is notified about the violation now especially as it is admitted in court filings.

  4. Eugene:

    Routine? I’m not sure I’d read that opinion as routine. The facts may be routine. However, that court was pissed. PISSED. I’ve had my problems with the conduct vs speech line in SLAPP cases but the defendant’s attorney clearly did not do the work and understand the law to mount a effective SLAPP defense if one existed. They didn’t publish it only to save the attorney from embarrassment.

  5. I can understand why the court could get so upset at the idea of using a SLAPP motion on invasion of privacy lawsuit without even an attempt to argue why the material involved should be regarded as public.

    It’s not clear to me some of the material is really so libelous. I’m not sure that most people would regard pretending to be a fireman while at Disneyland as any worse than pretending to be a mermaid or, for that matter, a white rabbit.

    That said, some of the material if false is definitely libelous. In this society, accusing someone of being a pedophile is about the most malum in se thing there is these days.

  6. It’s probably wise for adults to avoid corresponding with children. If correspondence is necessary, then one should Cc the parents.

  7. Those White Rabbits are an absolute bunch of thugs. Extortion, physical intimidation, coordinated destruction of people’s lives.

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