Judge dismisses lawsuit against Dr. Oz over fake olive oil claims

WASHINGTON, March 3 (Reuters) - Television personality Dr. Mehmet Oz won a legal victory after a judge dismissed a lawsuit alleging he violated a Georgia food libel law after making claims on his show that some imported olive oil sold in U.S. supermarkets could be fake.

The New Jersey-based North American Olive Oil Association filed the lawsuit against Oz last November in the state court in Fulton County, Georgia, seeking an unspecified amount in damages and payment for the group's legal fees.

The group accused Oz, who hosts the syndicated "The Dr. Oz Show," of violating a largely untested food libel law when he stated on a show that aired last May that 80 percent of the extra virgin olive oil imported into the country "isn't the real deal" and "may even be fake."

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UNITED STATES - JUNE 17: Mehmet Oz, host of the Dr. Oz Show, testifies at a Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee hearing in Russell Building titled 'Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products,' June 17, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
NEW YORK, NY - DECEMBER 12: TV Personality Dr. Oz attends z100s Jingle Ball on December 12, 2014 in New York City (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - NOVEMBER 13: Dr. Mehmet Oz attends the Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation's 12th Annual Celebrity Gala at Pier Sixty at Chelsea Piers on November 13, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Dave Kotinsky/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: Dr. Mahmet Oz attends the 'Fury' New York Premiere at DGA Theater on October 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Mark Sagliocco/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 15: (L-R) Singer TamTam, Dr. Mehmet Oz, Noor Altamimi, and Sarah Altamimi attend Bridges Of Understanding's annual 'Building Bridges' award dinner honoring designer Reem Acra with Steven Kolb on October 15, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images for Bridges of Understanding Foundation)
NEW YORK, NY - OCTOBER 14: Dr. Mamet Oz (L) and Zoe Oz attend the 'Fury' New York Premiere at DGA Theater on October 14, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
THE CHEW - Dr. Mehmet Oz is a guest on 'The Chew,' airing Monday, November 3, 2014. 'The Chew' airs MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Jeff Neira/ABC via Getty Images) DAPHNE OZ, DR. MEHMET OZ
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Dr. Mehmet Oz., Co-founder, HealthCorps, Ms. Jeanie Buss, Co-Owner and President of the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA Cares Global Ambassador, Dikembe Mutombo at the 2014 Concordia Summit at the Grand Hyatt on September29, 2014 at New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Co-founder of HealthCorps, Dr. Mehmet C. Oz speaks onstage at the 2014 Concordia Summit - Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Concordia Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Nicholas Logothetis (L) and co-founder of HealthCorps, Dr. Mehmet Oz speak backstage the 2014 Concordia Summit - Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Dr. Mehmet Oz., Co-founder, HealthCorps, Jeanie Buss, Co-Owner and President of the Los Angeles Lakers and NBA Cares Global Ambassador, Dikembe Mutombo at the 2014 Concordia Summit at the Grand Hyatt on September29, 2014 at New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 29: Dr. Mehmet Oz., Co-founder, HealthCorps, and Jeanie Buss, Co-Owner and President of the Los Angeles Lakers at the 2014 Concordia Summit at the Grand Hyatt on September29, 2014 at New York City, New York. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Michael LeBrecht/NBAE via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 29: Concordia Co-Founder and Chairman of the Board, Nicholas Logothetis (L) and co-founder of HealthCorps, Dr. Mehmet Oz speak backstage the 2014 Concordia Summit - Day 1 at Grand Hyatt New York on September 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Concordia Summit)
NEW YORK, UNITED STATES - SEPTEMBER 22: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) talks with famous Turkish-American doctor Mehmet Oz (L) during the dinner given in his honor by the deceased Turkish-American businessman Ahmet Ertegun's wife Mica Ertegun in New York, United States on September 22, 2014. Photo by Kayhan Ozer/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 28: Dr. Oz aka Mehmet Oz and his wife Lisa Oz attend Day 4 of the 2014 US Open at USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on August 28, 2014 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/GC Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 17: Mehmet Oz, host of the Dr. Oz Show, testifies at a Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Insurance Subcommittee hearing in Russell Building titled 'Protecting Consumers from False and Deceptive Advertising of Weight-Loss Products,' June 17, 2014. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
THE CHEW - 6/4/14 - Dr. Oz cooks with daughter Daphne on the delicious talk show, THE CHEW, airing MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images)
THE CHEW - 6/4/14 - Dr. Oz cooks with daughter Daphne on the delicious talk show, THE CHEW, airing MONDAY - FRIDAY (1-2pm, ET) on the ABC Television Network. (Photo by Lorenzo Bevilaqua/ABC via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Dr. Oz attends the NYRP 13th annual spring gala at General Grant National Memorial on May 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 29: TV personality Dr. Mehmet Oz attends the TIME 100 Gala, TIME's 100 most influential people in the world, at Jazz at Lincoln Center on April 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Ben Gabbe/Getty Images for TIME)
NEW YORK, NY - MAY 29: Dr. Oz, Arnold Germer, Bette Midler and Isaac Mizrahi attend the NYRP 13th annual spring gala at General Grant National Memorial on May 29, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Walter McBride/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 25: Dr. Mehmet Oz poses backstage at the hit musical 'Rocky' on Broadway at The Winter Garden Theater on April 25, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Glikas/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 16: Dr. Mehmet Oz and Lisa Oz attend The Hollywood Reporter 35 Most Powerful People In Media Celebration at The Four Seasons Restaurant on April 16, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Rob Kim/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: (L-R) Dr. Mehmet Oz, Gloria Steinem and Lisa Oz attend HealthCorps's 8th Annual Gala at The Waldorf=Astoria on April 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 09: Dr. Mehmet Oz attends HealthCorps's 8th Annual Gala at The Waldorf Astoria on April 9, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Daniel Zuchnik/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Dr. Mehmet Oz attends the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 Honors David Heyman at the Order of the Golden Sphinx Gala at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770)
NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 10: Dr. Mehmet Oz attends the Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770 Honors David Heyman at the Order of the Golden Sphinx Gala at the Appel Room at Jazz at Lincoln Center on March 10, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Jemal Countess/Getty Images for The Hasty Pudding Institute of 1770)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08: Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at the Clear Channel Media + Entertainment New Yorks FIRST ANNUAL Lifestyle Health & Wellness Expo presented by NY State of Health at Skylight One Hanson in Brooklyn on February 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 08: Dr. Mehmet Oz speaks at the Clear Channel Media + Entertainment New Yorks FIRST ANNUAL Lifestyle Health & Wellness Expo presented by NY State of Health at Skylight One Hanson in Brooklyn on February 8, 2014 in New York City. (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images for Clear Channel)
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The group also complained that the show failed to disclose that its featured guest and "certified oleologist" Maia Hirschbein is employed by the California Olive Ranch, which competes directly with foreign olive oil makers.

"We value the confidence our viewers place in us every day, including this program which fairly reported on the mislabeling of extra-virgin olive oil," Dr. Oz said in a statement. He added the lawsuit was just an attempt to "stifle the show" in its pursuit of truth about what is in America's food.

Oz and his production company sought to have the complaint dismissed, saying the statements he made were protected under an "Anti-SLAPP" law that shields people from having their free speech limited through abuse of the judicial process.

The judge agreed late Thursday with the show's arguments for dismissal.

"The court has grave concerns that the motivation for the present action falls squarely within the purpose of the anti-SLAPP statute as an attempt to chill speech," wrote Judge Alford Dempsey, Jr.

He added that he found there were "no statements made of any kind on the show that olive oil is unsafe for human consumption" and that the group failed to show "a scintilla of evidence" to support claims it suffered any financial injury.

A spokeswoman for the North American Olive Oil Association said the group is disappointed by the ruling.

Georgia is among 13 states that have adopted food libel laws, which generally have a lower legal burden of proof compared with traditional libel laws and make it easier for food companies to sue people who make disparaging remarks about their products.

(Reporting by Sarah N. Lynch; Editing by Alistair Bell)


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