A Laguna Beach plastic surgeon accused of medical malpractice received a favorable ruling from an Orange County Superior Court Judge in his defamation lawsuit against a popular health and exercise guru.
Dr. Arian Mowlavi sued social media personality Chalene Johnson for allegedly publicizing a false medical experience for her own financial gain and notoriety. In response, Johnson filed an anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) motion, which Judge Gregory H. Lewis denied on Feb. 12.
Bring awareness! 50+ victims (of this 1 doc) have come forward. Why an investigative reporter w chops hasn’t blown this up is beyond me.
His name is Dr. Arian Mowlavi – yes he’s threatening me 4 speaking out. No, I'm not deterred. @NBCNews @ABC @CBSNews @FoxNews @WSJ @VoiceofOC pic.twitter.com/2nwByC5x6x
— Chalene Johnson (@ChaleneJohnson) October 21, 2021
“The denial of an anti-SLAPP motion says a lot about the case,” said Nicole Clark, CEO of the legal analytics firm Trellis Law. “The plaintiff, for example, has learned that the evidence he has already collected is enough to negate the defenses asserted against the claim. The defendant has just learned that she has a lot more work to do in order to establish a strong defense.”
The dispute began after Johnson received cosmetic surgery from Dr. Mowlavi in July 2021 for her breast implants and C-section scar. Had Johnson received a favorable ruling from Judge Lewis, the anti-SLAPP motion would have halted the discovery process and ended Dr. Mowlavi’s cause of action.
“Plaintiffs have submitted sufficient evidence to show that numerous alleged defamatory statements were inaccurate,” wrote Judge Lewis in his Feb. 14 minute order. “From August to November 2021, Defendant Johnson posted approximately 100 statements about Plaintiff Dr. Mowlavi. Defendant Johnson had 749,000 followers on her social media site.”
Johnson’s statements that Judge Lewis decided Dr. Mowlavi had disproved include that a patient died on the operating table, the anesthesiologist used at Defendant Johnson’s surgery had two convictions for driving under the influence, and that Dr. Mowlavi had lost privileges at multiple hospitals.
“Johnson has become ‘obsessed’ with Dr. Mowlavi’s practice of medicine and with utilizing a false, sensationalized version of events – which she exaggerates and progressively changes with contradiction apparently to keep creating new social content for her public platform and podcast,” wrote Dr. Mowlavi’s attorney Stanton L. Stein in the defamation complaint.
Overall, Clark, who did not work on the litigation, finds defamation cases to be ironic.
“In order for the court to adjudicate the matter, the plaintiff must publish those statements in a complaint that is filed with the court and available to any member of the public,” she said. “This has the potential to give those statements even more publicity.”
Johnson subsequently filed a medical malpractice lawsuit and Dr. Mowlavi responded with a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing in the Central District of California.
“It’s hard to tell what role Judge Lewis’s denial of Johnson’s anti-SLAPP motion will have on Dr. Mowlavi’s defamation case or his bankruptcy case,” Clark told OrangeCountyLawyers.com. “The bankruptcy trustee may read the anti-SLAPP ruling, decide the case is financially worth litigating, and proceed with the case as usual. But there is also a chance that the bankruptcy trustee may abandon the lawsuit.”
Currently, the defamation case has been stayed due to Dr. Mowlavi’s Feb. 21 bankruptcy petition, which lists up to $10 million in assets and $50 million in liabilities.
“When plaintiffs in a lawsuit file for bankruptcy, title to that lawsuit often vests in the bankruptcy trustee, thereby potentially ousting the plaintiff as the party in interest,” Clark added. “The bankruptcy trustee may become the actual owner of Dr. Mowlavi’s defamation lawsuit itself.”
Juliette Fairley covers legal topics for various publications including the Southern California Record, the Epoch Times and Pacer Monitor-News. Prior to discovering she had an ease and facility for law, Juliette lived in Orange County and Los Angeles where she pursued acting in television and film.