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.
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 »
Paul Brodeur, a science writer who claims he was defamed by something Jennifer Lawrence said in David O. Russell’s 2013 film American Hustle, has survived an attempt to knock out his $1 million lawsuit on First Amendment grounds.
This is such an entertaining and ridiculous lawsuit.
In the movie American Hustle, Jennifer Lawrence plays a character named Rosalyn. The movie is set in the 70s, when microwave ovens were still relatively new, and Rosalyn makes the statement that microwaves cook the nutrition out of food. When another character questions that claim, she holds up a magazine and responds, “I read it in an article by Paul Brodeur.”
Paul Brodeur is a real person, and claims that the fictional statement from a fictional character hurts his reputation. During the 70s, Brodeur wrote about the dangers of microwave ovens, but he never stated that they take the nutrition out of food, and he therefore claims that the idea that he would have written this (fictional) article stating that food loses its nutrition when cooked in a microwave is akin to having Carl Sagan say that the sun revolves around the earth.
Brodeur should have been flattered that anyone remembered him, and laughed at the joke, but this is America, so he sued for a million dollars, claiming the statement was defamatory. The movie makers responded with an anti-SLAPP motion.
At the time, I gave the motion little chance of success, because I didn’t think the movie makers would be able to meet the first prong of the anti-SLAPP analysis, and show that this was a matter of public interest. Apparently the judge agreed, and denied the motion.
[UPDATE (June 6, 2016):] Cases such as this continue to show the importance of the automatic right of appeal, even from denial of an anti-SLAPP motion.
Paul Brodeur’s ridiculous lawsuit survived an anti-SLAPP motion, dooming the defendant (Atlas Entertainment, Inc.) to litigate issues through trial, were it not for the automatic right of appeal. That ability to demand a second look at the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute resulted in the dismissal of this waste of court resources.
As it had to, the Court of Appeal held: Read the rest of this entry »
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 »
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.
In Episode 17 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we go back to basics, with an introduction to the fundamental concepts behind California’s SLAPP Law and anti-SLAPP motions.
The good news is that although it took some 25 years for attorneys to begin recognizing the impact of California’s anti-SLAPP statutes on litigation in the state, they are now aware of the statute (sometimes painfully so). But it is clear that there are still some misconceptions about the law, including the fundamental terminology and procedures. Listen to this episode, and you’ll have a great understanding of what a SLAPP is, and what sort of activities fall under that anti-SLAPP statutes. Read the rest of this entry »
Bill Cosby will give a new deposition in the defamation lawsuit from Janice Dickinson over her allegations of sexual assault.
The former supermodel told Entertainment Tonight in November 2014 the comedian drugged her into unconsciousness and raped her. Cosby’s former attorney Martin Singer responded in a statement to the media calling Dickinson’s story “an outrageous defamatory lie” and “completely fabricated.”
In a hearing Monday, judge Debre K. Weintraub ordered Dickinson will depose Cosby and Singer by Nov. 25 on whether they knew if her allegations were true before denying them to the press. The testimony will follow Cosby’s recent deposition in Judy Huth’s lawsuit (which will be sealed until a Dec. 22 hearing in which the sides will argue if the testimony should be public).
Sourced through Scoop.it from: www.hollywoodreporter.com
Recent developments in one of the actions against Bill Cosby illustrate the availability of limited discovery after an anti-SLAPP motion has been filed, and how defamation claims are sometimes used to resurrect actions that would otherwise be barred by the statute of limitation.
Joining the bandwagon of Cosby accusers (or perhaps she was the first) Janice Dickinson stated that she was drugged and raped by Cosby many years ago. Any action for that alleged assault would be far past the statute of limitations, but when Cosby denied the allegations, Dickinson was then free to sue for defamation, claiming that by denying that the rape had occurred, Cosby was in essence calling her a liar. (Or in this case, Cosby’s attorney actually did call her a liar.)
This is a common tactic, and puts an accused party in a precarious position. They can remain silent, in which case everyone will think and the press will report that they must be guilty since they are not denying the charges, or they can speak up and deny the charges, in which case they face a defamation action. Cosby chose to claim innocence, and the defamation suit followed.
Cosby responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, and that led to Dickinson’s request for leave to take Cosby’s deposition.
Celebrities enjoy a benefit that the rest of us plebes don’t, and that is that anything said about them is deemed to be a matter of public interest, triggering the anti-SLAPP statute. The downside is that said celebrities are deemed to be public figures, and given the inherent ability of celebrities to respond to criticism by simply calling a press conference, the law imposes an extra requirement on them to prove defamation. To successfully sue for defamation, they must show that the purportedly defamatory statements were made with malice. Since Dickinson is also a celebrity, she must therefore show that when Cosby called her a liar, he did so with malice.
One way to prove malice is to show that the person making the comment knew it wasn’t true. And thus we go full circle. Dickinson says Cosby raped her, Cosby says he didn’t, so Dickinson says that’s proof of malice because he raped her and knows it.
When an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the plaintiff can request leave to conduct discovery, and here Dickinson requested leave to take Cosby’s deposition, to prove the malice. It’s a long shot, because the only way Cosby’s testimony would prove malice is if he admits that he raped Dickinson and knew he had raped her when he denied the claim. (Or, I suppose, Cosby could get befuddled and say he doesn’t remember.)
I was recently retained to consult on an anti-SLAPP motion in Orange County Superior Court, and the hearing on the motion was set for today. This particular judge is very good about issuing tentative rulings, but the rulings are often published on-line just shortly before the 1:30 hearing time. Knowing the tentative ruling is essential for oral argument since you know where the judge is going, and can address those specific points. (Truth be told, attorneys are seldom successful in getting a judge to reverse his or her tentative, but sometimes it can be done when the judge has a fundamental misunderstanding of the law that can be cleared up, or has misapplied the law to the facts.)
So my procedure is to open a window to the tentative rulings, which will be the rulings from the prior week, and periodically refresh the window until the current rulings appear. When our tentative ruling finally did pop up, it was just to inform us that the judge had decided to continue the hearing on our motion for a few weeks. This can happen when a judge’s docket doesn’t leave him or her enough time to work up and decide all the motions, or they just think more time is needed to decide a particularly challenging motion. I prefer to think that our legal analysis was so impressive that the judge just wanted more time to savor it, but who knows.
But while I was on the list of tentative rulings, I saw that the judge had decided an anti-SLAPP motion in another case. The ruling piqued my interest, so I pulled a copy of the cross-complaint to see what the case was all about. That will be the subject matter of this article.
I present the case summary and ruling here because they present a great example of how a judge analyzes an anti-SLAPP motion. I get numerous calls and emails from potential clients either wanting to prosecute an anti-SLAPP motion or needing to defend against one, where the facts they want to present are largely speculation. But to borrow an old cliché, an anti-SLAPP motion is where the rubber meets the road, and your allegations must be provable facts. The case also presents a very good example of just how expansive the litigation privilege can be. I will also take this opportunity to discuss the proof necessary for the particular causes of action that were pursued in this case. Read the rest of this entry »
A judge ordered singer/actress Ronee Sue Blakley to pay more than $200,000 in attorneys’ fees to her former lover, who won dismissal earlier this year of a lawsuit alleging he based the character of an abusive mother on his ex-flame when penning the screenplay for the film “What Maisie Knew.”
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rafael Ongkeko granted $209,670 to writer Carroll Cartwright on June 5, the same day he heard arguments on the motion for attorneys’ fees brought by Cartwright’s attorneys. He also ordered Blakley to pay Cartwright an additional $1,840 in associated legal costs.
Sourced through Scoop.it from: mynewsla.com
At least three times a week, I end a telephone conversation with the following statement, after concluding that the legal action the caller is proposing would be met with an anti-SLAPP motion:
“I’m sure you can find any number of attorneys who will happily take your money to pursue this action, but I think you will be met with a successful anti-SLAPP motion if you move forward. If you do find an attorney willing to take this case, please ask them how they will deal with the anti-SLAPP motion. If they can’t provide a good answer, don’t pursue the case.”
This was one of those cases. Ronee Sue Blakley found an attorney to pursue the case, it was met with an anti-SLAPP motion, and Blakley is now paying the price.
Consider the theory of this case. Blakley dated someone for five years way back in the 80s, and 35 years later when said significant other wrote a screenplay about a fictional character, Blakley claimed the fictional character was based on her, and that the characterization was defamatory.
I never understand this reasoning. I recently received a call from a woman who was convinced that a person portrayed as an incompetent parent on a popular sitcom was based on her. (She knew one of the writers, and felt that he was using her as a model.) But if she wasn’t an incompetent parent, then why would she think that other people would assume this incompetent parent was her? Even if the character was based on the caller, that is irrelevant unless the people watching the sitcom would understand the connection.
The court in the Blakley case came to the same conclusion. The judge found that a reasonable viewer of the movie would not see any similarities between Blakley and the character.
After granting the anti-SLAPP motion, the court awarded defendant $209,670 in attorney fees, representing 476 hours of attorney time. A high price to pay to take a run at such a thin claim.
On May 13, 2015, the California Supreme Court granted review in Baral v. Schnitt to resolve the divide among lower courts regarding whether anti-SLAPP motions can strike so-called “mixed” causes of action.
This is a very important case in the anti-SLAPP world, and the Supreme Court may finally clear up the competing decisions as regards mixed causes of action.
Here is how these causes of action typically arise. A homeowner is having a dispute with a neighbor and sues for harassment and infliction of emotional distress, alleging that the neighbor has made false police reports, called child protective services, and has left dog poo on his lawn.
Of those allegations, two are protected activities — calling the police and child protective services. The third, involving the dog poo, is not. So if the neighbor brings an anti-SLAPP motion, how should the court deal with these mixed causes of action?
Some courts have held that the entire claim falls under the anti-SLAPP motion, while others have held that the protected activity allegations should be stricken. Others still have held that the claim survives. Hopefully, this review by the California Supreme Court will finally resolve the issue.