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SLAPP023 – Privileged Speech Can Survive Anti-SLAPP Motions

In Episode 23 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we examine two cases that consider how privileged speech should be viewed during the two-prong anti-SLAPP analysis. As you will hear, the fact that the speech was privileged does not mean it automatically falls under the anti-SLAPP statute.

Edalati v. Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

This unpublished case is our starting point. In Edalati, a dentist learned that Kaiser Foundation Health Plan had sent a letter to dozens of her patients, falsely informing them that the dentist was on a government list for Medicare abuse. Kaiser realized it’s mistake and sent out a retraction letter, but by that point the damage had been done. The dentist sued for defamation, and Kaiser responded with an anti-SLAPP motion.

Kaiser’s letter clearly falls under the common interest privilege of Civil Code section 47, but is that enough to prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion?

Lefebvre v. Lefebvre

In opposition to Kaiser’s anti-SLAPP motion, the dentist in Edalati relied on the case of Lefebvre v. Lefebvre. In that case, a wife, in the hope that it would help in a custody dispute, filed a false police report against her husband, claiming he had threatened to kill her and their children. He was arrested and charged. He was found not guilty, and then sued his ex-wife for defamation. The wife brought an anti-SLAPP motion.

The report to the police enjoys an absolute privilege, so the anti-SLAPP motion must have been granted, right? Don’t be so sure. Listen to this latest episode to find out. Here’s a hint. The case law discussed in this episode offers a means to save attorneys and their clients from an award of attorney fees when they end up on the wrong side of an anti-SLAPP motion.

A great, FREE program

The publisher stopped supporting and offering a fantastic program called Notescraps that I use every day in my practice. I not only prevailed on them to keep offering the program, I got them to give it to you for free (it used to be $20). I tell you how to get it on this episode.

Book ’em Danno.

And finally, just for fun, I tell the tale of my encounter with some officious deputies at the courthouse. I still made it to court and still won my motion.

SLAPP022 – Abuse of Process Claims and Anti-SLAPP Motions

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Hooray for Hollywood! In Episode 22 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we discuss four cases involving the film industry that have all resulted in anti-SLAPP motions. We also dive deep into abuse of process claims, and determine if such claims can ever survive an anti-SLAPP motion. And in the process, we discuss a trial strategy that I successfully utilized in achieving a case involving the Automotive Repair Act.

Cases discussed in this Episode:

Kelly Van v. James Cameron (unpublished).

In this case, and author named Kelly Van sued James Cameron and a cast of thousands, claiming that Avatar was a ripoff of her book, Sheila the Warrior; the Damned. When she lost the copyright action in Federal Court, she sued in state court, claiming that she only lost the federal action because the defendants had lied. So she was suing for statements made in another case. Sounds like a SLAPP to me.

Timothy Forsyth v. Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

In this class action, the plaintiff claims that depictions of smoking in the movies are killing our children. They claim it is a violation of the movie rating system to give a movie a PG-13 rating if the movie depicts smoking (such as Gandalf smoking his pipe in the Lord of the Rings movies). So the plaintiff gets to tell the movie industry how to rate movies? Sounds like a SLAPP to me.

Paul Brodeur v.  Atlas Entertainment (unpublished).

In the 70s, Paul Brodeur told the world that microwave ovens were dangerous, but he never said the cook the nutrients out of food. In the film American Hustle, a fictional charater makes the fictional statement that Paul Brodeur said that microwaves cook the nutrients out of food. So Brodeur gets to tell the movie industry how to write the fictional dialog of its fictional characters? Sounds like a SLAPP to me.

Michael Hawkins v. Christian Slater (Superior Court case)

For a brief shining moment in Camelot, Christian Slater reunited with his actor father, Michael Hawkins. They had had a turbulent relationship, but Slater announced in an interview that he was happy to have his father back in his life, describing his father as a “manic-depressive schizophrenic.” His father sued for defamation, and Slater brought an anti-SLAPP motion. So Hawkins thinks that Slater is qualified to offer a medical diagnosis, such that his statement would be taken as a verifiable statement? Sounds like a SLAPP to me.

Rusheen v. Cohen (Supreme Court Decision).

The Supreme Court case that tells all about abuse of process claims. Every abuse of process claim will be met with an anti-SLAPP motion. Here is the information you need to determine if your abuse of process claim will survive that motion.

SLAPP021 – Anti-SLAPP Motions Against Mixed Causes of Action

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We discuss the very important case of Baral v. Schnitt, in which the California Supreme Court finally dealt with the split of authorities regarding how to deal with complaints with mixed causes of action; those that contain allegations of both protected and unprotected activities. This is probably the most important anti-SLAPP decision of the decade.

We also take a quick look at Hassell v. Bird, in which the Court of Appeal held that Yelp can be ordered to take down a false and defamatory post, even if it was not a party to the action.

Finally, I tell the tale of a very entertaining victory we had in Norwalk Superior Court, in front of a finger-wagging judge.

Anti-SLAPP Motions in Federal Court – Some Judges Still Complaining

No Whiners Annoying Complainers Irritating Problem Customer
On August 3, 2016, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in the case Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America v. Robert Hirsh.

The Court affirmed the district court’s denial of Robert Hirsh’s anti-SLAPP motion (Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16) to strike the second amended complaint filed by Travelers Casualty Insurance Company of America. Hirsh had alleged that Travelers’ claims arose out of his representation of Travelers’ insured, Visemer De Gelt, as Cumis counsel; and his activity was therefore protected under the anti-SLAPP statute.

The Ninth Circuit held that because Travelers’ causes of action were not based on an act in furtherance of Hirsh’s right of petition or free speech, they did not “arise from” protected activity, and thus did not satisfy the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis. The Court also held that Travelers established a probability of prevailing on the merits sufficient to survive a motion to strike. The Court further held that California’s litigation privilege, Cal. Civ. Code § 47(b), did not bar the suit because the causes of action arose from Hirsh’s post-settlement conduct, not his communications with De Gelt in settling a prior lawsuit.

Should we allow anti-SLAPP motions in Federal Court?

But like a number of appellate judges in the Ninth Circuit, Judge Kozinski and Judge Gould, although they concurred in the opinion, could not pass up the opportunity to complain about how anti-SLAPP motions in federal court were making them work too hard. Judge Kozinski decried that the existing case law is wrong, and he would urge the court to follow the D.C. Circuit’s holding in Abbas v. Foreign Policy Grp., LLC, which held that anti-SLAPP motions do not belong in federal court because they directly conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. At the very least, Judge Kozinski urged the court to reconsider the holding in Batzel v. Smith, which allows defendants who lose anti-SLAPP motions to bring an immediate interlocutory appeal.

With all due respect, the reasoning of Judge Kozinski does not withstand scrutiny, as will be shown hereinbelow. What follows is Judge Kozinski’s concurring opinion, with my response to him in red on each of his points. Read the rest of this entry »

Supreme Court Finally Applies Anti-SLAPP Statute to Mixed Causes of Action

Mixed Messages Poor Communication Misunderstood

On August 1, 2016 the California Supreme Court issued an opinion on anti-SLAPP law that will likely prove to be the most impactful decision of this decade.

The Supreme Court used the issues presented by the case of Baral v. Schnitt to finally clear up a split of authority that has existed since at least 2004, namely, what to do with mixed causes of action.

The history of the Courts’ struggles with mixed causes of action.

Read the rest of this entry »

Porn Star versus Firefighter – The Vagaries of Anti-SLAPP Law

Puzzled Confused Lost Signpost Showing Puzzling Problem
Litigation is never a 100% certainty, as evidenced by the two cases that follow. But an attorney who really knows his or her stuff can certainly mean the difference between victory or defeat. If you are going to enter the murky waters of an anti-SLAPP motion or are contemplating a defamation case that could invoke an anti-SLAPP motion, be sure you have a good anti-SLAPP attorney.

Today we discuss two seemingly identical cases, at least from the legal issues they presented, but which ended in completely opposite results.

The Vagaries of Anti-SLAPP Law

In our first example, The New York Daily News (that bastion of journalism) reported on a sex scandal at the fire department, and the article included two photographs. The first photo was a generic stock photo showing firefighters at the scene of a fire. But the second photo is the one that started the brouhaha. Inexplicably the newspaper chose to use a photo of firefighter Francis Cheney II, taken during a formal 9/11 ceremony. The newspaper’s intent (so they claimed) was simply to use Cheney as a representation of a firefighter. But here was an article about a sex scandal, with a picture of Cheney. How could any reasonable person take that as anything other than an implied reference that Cheney was one of the firefighters involved?

Cheney certainly thought his photo would be taken that way, so he sued the newspaper, claiming that the photo had harmed his reputation by implying that he was one of the firefighters involved in the sex scandal. But a judge in federal court dismissed the action, finding that since the article never mentioned Cheney by name, it was too much of a stretch to assume that readers would think the photo was there because he was a participant.

So, the rule of law appears to be that if your photo is included in a sex scandal story, don’t bother suing, because the court will throw out your case if the other side brings an anti-SLAPP motion, because you won’t be able to prove a likelihood of success on your case. Good to know.

Now we turn to the case of Leah Manzari v. Associated News Ltd. Read the rest of this entry »

When Considering an Anti-SLAPP Motion, Focus on the Gravamen of the Complaint

Fans on stadium game panorama view

I am the anti-SLAPP guy, and I’d be the last to criticize creative applications of the anti-SLAPP statute. But sometimes it is as though the attorney bringing an anti-SLAPP motion only read the Cliff Notes on the process. He knows some of the buzz words, such as “public interest” and “protected speech”, but lacks the big picture. When considering an anti-SLAPP motion, you must consider the true gravamen of the complaint.

Case in point is the recent Court of Appeal opinion in Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson (Los Angeles Superior Court Case No. B264493), arising from the efforts to build a football stadium in the City of Carson. The ruling of the Court of Appeal, published on May 31, 2016, can be found here.

Carson wanted to build a stadium and entertainment complex, and was hoping to woo the NFL to relocate a team there. Carson hired a lobbyist, of sorts, Richard Rand, giving him an exclusive arrangement to negotiate with the NFL.

Things between Rand and the city got off to a rocky start, leading Rand to successfully sue Carson for civil rights violations, alleging that the Mayor had demanded a bribe. The city and Rand both appealed, with the city claiming it had never happened, and Rand claiming he should get more in damages.

The parties eventually settled, but Carson did not honor Rand’s exclusivity arrangement. Rand sued again, this time for breach of contract and other claims.

“Well,” thought the city’s attorneys, “this whole football stadium thing is generating a ton of public interest, and anti-SLAPP motions can be brought where the situation is a matter of public interest, so let’s bring an anti-SLAPP motion.”

And that’s just what they did. The city challenged Rand’s action with an anti-SLAPP motion.

“Well,” thought the judge, “this whole football stadium thing is generating a ton of public interest, and anti-SLAPP motions can be brought where the situation is a matter of public interest, so I guess I should grant the anti-SLAPP motion.”

And that’s just what he did. Apparently having read the same Cliff Notes, the judge granted the anti-SLAPP motion. Rand appealed. Read the rest of this entry »

SLAPP020 – Sixth District Weighs in on Admissibility of Yelp Reviews and the Law on Inferences

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In Episode 20 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we discuss important Evidence Codes, and my VINDICATION by the California Court of Appeal.

The vindication comes in the form of a published opinion from the Sixth District Court of Appeal. I was brought in as co-counsel to first chair an internet defamation trial in Santa Cruz, representing a client (an attorney) we will refer to as “Esquire”. We were also defending a cross-complaint for breach of a commercial lease. The trial was assigned to Judge Ariadne Symons, who by her own admission was probably not the best choice for this case, confessing that she knew nothing about the internet and computers.

At commencement of trial, the defense took one look at our trial brief, and immediately dismissed the cross-complaint, leaving for trial only our complaint for defamation and breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment. Unfortunately, Judge Symons’ fundamental misunderstanding of the rules of evidence, both as to what is necessary to admit documents posted on the internet, and as to indirect evidence and inferences, led to the exclusion of all of our defamation evidence.

I was confident that the matter would be reversed on appeal, and I was looking forward to the Court of Appeal’s opinion, not just for the benefit of the client and my own vindication, but because until the Court of Appeal instructed Judge Symons on fundamental evidentiary law, a lot of parties in her court were going to be deprived of justice. Read the rest of this entry »

Can band members sue for wrongful termination?

Eddie Money is looking for two tickets to paradise in the form of an anti-SLAPP motion to get him out of what certainly appears to be a ridiculous suit.

His drummer, Glenn Symmonds, sued Eddie Money for wrongful termination when Money decided to use his son’s band for appearances. Symmonds claimed this “termination” was based on his age and because he has cancer. When those claims didn’t seem to be gaining much traction, Symmonds added his girlfriend to the mix, claiming that he suffered emotional distress from witnessing Money sexually harassing her, citing an incident where he held the mic between his legs like a penis.

Money has responded to the complaint with an anti-SLAPP motion, asserting that the manner in which he presents his music, and hence the make-up of his band, is a protected form of expression.

“The fact that Eddie did not invite Plaintiff to rejoin the band had nothing whatsoever to do with his age,” states the brief. “Nor did it have anything to do with any illness or disability that he suffered. It was based entirely on how inappropriately Plaintiff reacted upon hearing that Eddie wanted to tour with his adult children during the summer.”

I can’t opine on the likely outcome of the motion, because I don’t have knowledge of the evidence that both sides can bring to bear. But I would predict that the motion will satisfy the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis, since Money’s performance is a form of expression.

And I can opine that Symmonds needs to get a life. Apparently not only was Money not bothered by Symmonds’ cancer, he held fundraising concerts for him. No good deed goes unpunished.

SLAPP019 – Five Best Published Anti-SLAPP Decisions (so far) in 2016

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On Episode 19 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we go through my five favorite reported anti-SLAPP decisions from the first half of 2016.

But first we begin with a cautionary tale of an attorney who is being sued for malpractice for failing to have me review his complaint before it was filed! (OK, there’s a back story here, so be sure to listen to this episode to find out what I’m talking about.)

Then, we turn to the five best published anti-SLAPP decisions from the first half of 2016. The bold cases are the top five; the non-bolded are other cases I discuss as well.

Lanz v. Goldstone (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 441

Another cautionary tale, this time of an attorney who followed the old adage, “the best defense is a good offense.” He tried to intimidate an attorney from seeking his legal fees, and bought himself a malicious prosecution action in the process. You’ll learn a lot about malicious prosecution actions and under what circumstances they can survive an anti-SLAPP motion.

Bertero v. National General Corp. (1974) 13 Cal.3d 43

Speaking of malicious prosecution actions, this is the seminal case.

Sierra Club Foundation v. Graham (1999) 72 Cal.App.4th 1135

“When the proceeding terminates other than on the merits, the court must examine the REASONS for termination to see if the disposition reflects the opinion of the court OR THE PROSECUTING PARTY that the action would not succeed.”

Karnazes v. Ares (2016) 244 Cal.App.4th 344

Speaking of over-pleading, our second case is Karnazes v. Ares, decided by the Second District in January of 2016. In this case, the plaintiff alleged 22 – count em – 22 causes of action against the defendants. Karnazes lost to an anti-SLAPP motion, but made some interesting arguments in opposition to that motion.

Sweetwater Union School District v. Gilbane Building Company (2016) 245 Cal.App.4th 19

Are political bribes protected by the anti-SLAPP statute? Listen to find out (and the answer will likely surprise you). And find out how you can support an anti-SLAPP motion with declarations without using declarations.

Crossroads Investors v. Federal National Mortgage Association (2016) 246 Cal.App.4th 529

It may look like litigation, and it may quack like litigation, but that doesn’t necessarily make it litigation for purposes of the litigation privilege and the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis.

JM Manufacturing v. Phillips & Cohen (2016) 247 Cal.App.4th 87

Yet one more action against an attorney; in this case an attorney who was so proud of his firm’s trial victory that he published a press release and bought the firm a defamation action. It was a split decision.

And finally, in the after show, I provide an appeal tip that might save you from some embarrassment.

Aaron Morris, Attorney
Aaron Morris
Morris & Stone, LLP

Tustin Financial Plaza
17852 17th St., Suite 201
Tustin, CA 92780

(714) 954-0700

Email Aaron Morris
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