Complaints About Cake Did Not Involve The Public Interest
"Qu'ils mangent de la brioche"
Who knew that the decorative cake baking industry could be so contentious? Three years ago, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in Masterpiece Cakeshop, Ltd. v. Colo. Civil Rights Comm'n, 138 S. Ct. 1719, 201 L. Ed. 2d 35 (2018). Now, the California Court of Appeal has decided that complaints about a cake do not involve the public interest. Woodhill Ventures, LLC v. Yang, 2021 Cal. App. LEXIS 734.
The case involved a bakery, Big Sugar, a customer, Ben "the Baller" Yang, and a birthday cake for Yang's seven year old son. A photo of the cake is included as Appendix B to the court's opinion. According to the Court,
Yang called the bakery to complain and, dissatisfied with the bakery’s response, aired his grievance to his 1.5 million social media followers. He also discussed his experience on his podcast two days later. Big Sugar began receiving death threats and negative reviews from Yang’s followers. Big Sugar demanded Yang correct what it said were false statements about the bakery. Yang refused. Big Sugar filed suit alleging libel, slander, and violation of the Unfair Competition Law. Yang responded with a special motion to strike.
The issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Big Sugar's complaint should be stricken pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP). Thus, the issue before the court was whether Yang's statements about his son's birthday cake and the bakery were made in connection with an issue of public interest for purposes of California. The Court of Appeal held that they were not:
Yang is complaining about a cake order. He did not like the cake and he did not like the service. Those are not issues of public interest.
The opinion by Justice John Shepard Wiley Jr. includes some trenchant observations:
Even people of great renown are capable of banalities, as are we all.
Shouting makes the volume loud. It does not make the content worthy.
Consumers are interested in the reactions of other consumers, but a single report is the classic small sample, subject to the classic small sample error.