A state appeals court panel Wednesday affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by a woman against “Dr. Phil” and CBS in which she alleged that the talk show host publicly humiliated her on his show and caused her to suffer a breakdown.
The three-justice panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal unanimously found that Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie ruled correctly in dismissing plaintiff Kaden Mahaffa’s suit on free-speech grounds in 2019.
“The trial court granted (the dismissal) motion on the grounds that the gravamen of appellant’s complaint implicated respondents’ right to free speech on a matter of public interest and that appellant failed to submit evidence showing a probability that she would prevail on any other claims,” Justice Victoria Chavez wrote. “We find no error and affirm the judgment.”
The complaint was filed in February 2019 alleging intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligent misrepresentation and fraud.
Mahaffa has struggled with mental health issues since she was a child, and she alleged she was deluded by Dr. Phil — whose real name is Phillip Calvin McGraw — and his staff into thinking she would be asked to talk about the alleged abuse her boyfriend went through at the hands of his mother and grandmother.
Instead, Mahaffa says the producers decided to change the tone of the show after speaking with her in a pre-interview when she told them she believed she “possessed various supernatural powers, including the ability to communicate with the dead, read people’s minds, see with X-ray vision and intuitively write ancient languages.”
McGraw should have known Mahaffa “was a mentally-ill individual in crisis, not someone to be exploited on a national TV show,” the suit stated.
“Nevertheless, defendants calculated that publicizing and ridiculing Ms. Mahaffa’s delusions would make for good television,” the suit states.
Mahaffa alleged Dr. Phil pugnaciously questioned her and demanded she demonstrate her purported powers, leaving the audience laughing and jeering at her. She suffered a mental breakdown backstage after the taping, the suit states.
“I was sobbing on the floor and tearing at my hair,” Mahaffa said, according to the opinion. “There were cameramen filming me, and when I told them to get away, they got closer. The police showed up, placed me in custody and took me to a mental health facility, where I was involuntarily committed for five days.”
CBS and McGraw filed a dismissal motion in April 2019, arguing that Mahaffa’s suit arose from protected activity because the acts of creating and broadcasting a television show are in “furtherance of the constitutional right of free speech.”
Fujie agreed in granting the defense motion to dismiss the suit in May 2019. The appellate court found Fujie also was correct in finding that the conduct of McGraw and his staff was connected to a public issue.
“The law is unequivocal that widely broadcast productions such as the show are of public interest,” Chavez wrote. “In addition, mental health issues and matters of health in general are undeniably of interest to the public.”
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