anti-SLAPP motions

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This unpublished case is our starting point.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.

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 »

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.

SLAPP018 – All You Need to Know About Anti-SLAPP Motions in Federal Court

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In episode 18 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, I discuss an anti-SLAPP motion I decided NOT to pursue, and why. We discuss the case of Weinberg v. Feisel (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1122.

Then we dive deep into the pros, cons, and frustrations of bringing anti-SLAPP motions in Federal Court. Since 1999, the Ninth Circuit has recognized that the California anti-SLAPP statute can be applied to cases in Federal Court, but the motion you bring there is a very different animal from what is pursued in State Court. As part of our discussion on anti-SLAPP motions in Federal Court, we cover the following cases:

Erie Railroad Company v. Tompkins (1938) 304 U.S. 64

Swift v. Tyson (1842) 41 U.S. 1

United States Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles and Space Co. (1999) 171 F.3d 1208

Makaeff v. Trump University (2013) 715 F.3d 254

Verizon Delaware, Inc. v. Covad Communications (2004) 377 F.3d 1081

Globetrotter Software, Inc. v. Elan Computer Group (2004) 362 F.3d 1367

SLAPP016 – Appealing a Ruling on an Anti-SLAPP Motion

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In Episode 16 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we discuss (1) when you can join with another defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion, and whether it is a good strategy to do so; (2) what the Courts of Appeal are doing to deal with all the appeals from anti-SLAPP motions; and (3) likely changes to the automatic right of appeal.

We dive deep into the case of Hewlett-Packard Co. v. Oracle (2015), in which the Sixth District decried the abuse of the automatic right of appeal from rulings on anti-SLAPP motions, and took the unusual step of suggesting to the California Legislature how it could be fixed. The California Society of Entertainment Lawyers has offered the change set forth in the decision as a proposal to the legislature via the Conference of California Bar Associations.

We also discuss the cases of Decker v. UD Registry, Inc. and Barak v. Quisenberry Law Firm, and examine their very different views on whether one defendant can join another defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion.

Finally, in the post show, I introduce you to a brand new service that provides access to prior tentative rulings of trial court judges, which are a great resource when preparing important motions that will be heard by those judges.

SLAPP015 – It’s Never Too Late to File an Anti-SLAPP Motion

California SLAPP Law Podcast

In Episode 15 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we discuss (1) the perils of overreaching in your anti-SLAPP motions (making iffy challenges to causes of action can come back to bite you, even if you win), and (2) why you should NEVER assume it’s too late to bring an anti-SLAPP motion , and some strategies to keep in mind when you do bring an anti-SLAPP motion late in the game.

We also discuss the case of Chitsazzadeh v. Kramer & Kaslow (2011) 199 Cal.App.4th 676, which held [spoiler alert] that no leave is required to file a late anti-SLAPP motion.

We examine two cases that discuss whether it is an abuse of discretion to refuse to consider a late anti-SLAPP motion. Du Charme v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 107 held that it is never an abuse of discretion for a trial court to refuse to consider a late-filed anti-SLAPP motion, regardless of the merits, and Platypus Wear, Inc. v. Goldberg (2008) 166 Cal.App.4th 772, which held that it can be an abuse of discretion to allow an anti-SLAPP motion to be brought too late in the action.

(But the title says it’s never too late to file an anti-SLAPP motion. How can you reconcile that with the holding of Platypus? Listen to Episode 15 to find out!)

SLAPP011 – Six Tips to Win Your Motion for Attorney Fees Following an Anti-SLAPP Motion

California SLAPP Law Podcast

In Episode 11 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, I provide you with six tips to win your attorney fee motions following a successful anti-SLAPP motion.

There are so many unscrupulous attorneys who inflate their fee applications, that some judges feel the need to reduce the fees requested on any motion for attorney fees. To make sure you don’t get lumped in with the other attorneys, here are the ways to show the judge that every dollar is justified.

In other news, I bring you up to speed on Demetriades v. Yelp, which was discussed in Episode 10. Demetriades is suing Yelp to enjoin it from falsely advertising that its reviews are trustworthy. Yelp brought an unsuccessful anti-SLAPP motion, and even though the Court of Appeal held that the anti-SLAPP motion should be denied, Yelp is not going quietly into the night. It is seeking review by the Supremes.

Finally, we discuss a very entertaining case at Morris & Stone. As discussed in Episode 9, a company filed a bogus lawsuit against our client in an attempt to prevent him from competing. We responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, which stayed all discovery. The plaintiff is not pleased, since it wanted to use discovery to harass our client. I predicted that it also would not go quietly into the night, and that it would seek relief from the discovery stay. You’ll hear the arguments plaintiff’s counsel (unsuccessfully) made as to why the discovery stay does not apply to them. I’ll show you how I defeated their ex parte application as well.

More Exciting Anti-SLAPP Victories at Morris & Stone

Today we follow up on a couple of our cases, which were reported on the California SLAPP Law Podcast, episodes 8 and 9, which led to anti-SLAPP victories.

The Case of the Evil Yogurt Maker

In Episode 8, I told the tale of the Evil Yogurt Maker. I changed the nature of the businesses involved so I could tell the story, and made the plaintiff a yogurt maker. My client had called him out on some false advertising claims, and the Evil Yogurt Maker responded by bringing a defamation action.

Our client was a sophisticated businessman who had really done his research. Before calling us, he already knew about the anti-SLAPP laws in general, and was familiar with Code of Civil Procedure section 425.17 in particular. That is the section that exempts certain business versus business actions from the anti-SLAPP statutes.

Our client had been advised by other attorneys that he could not respond to the defamation action with an anti-SLAPP motion, specifically because of section 425.17. We disagreed. Although this was a business versus business action, section 425.17 has a number of requirements before it applies, including the fact that the alleged “defamer” had to be directing its remarks to likely customers. Here, the remarks had been directed to regulatory agencies.

Upon the filing of the anti-SLAPP motion, the Plaintiff cried “Uncle!” and the case went away.

Using Discovery to Harass

This one involves a victory on the way to an anti-SLAPP victory. In Episode 9, and in this article, I discussed the case we are handling, wherein a company is attempting to use the litigation process to keep our client from competing. In typical fashion when a company is trying to thwart competition, the Plaintiff company filed an action, making the usual nonsensical claims that the defendant is using trade secrets. In these actions, the Plaintiff knows they will never prevail if the case goes to trial, but they attempt to make the process so expensive and burdensome that the defendant agrees to find another line of work. (Perhaps California next needs to pass legislation that applies an anti-SLAPP approach to actions designed to frustrate competition.)

In these sorts of actions, the Plaintiff’s two primary harassment tools are injunctions and discovery. Prior counsel in the action had already defeated Plaintiff’s attempt to obtain an injunction, so Plaintiff’s counsel was using discovery and threats of motions to compel to harass.

As a new form of harassment, Plaintiffs then amended their complaint to add four causes of action for defamation, and we responded with an anti-SLAPP motion, which stayed all discovery in the action.

I predicted that, contrary to all law, Plaintiff’s counsel would go to court and ask for leave to continue with discovery relating to the other causes of action and defendants. You see, section 425.16 specifically provides that a plaintiff can request leave from the stay in order to conduct discovery on issues related to the anti-SLAPP, but that discovery is very proscribed. It not only has to be related to the issues raised in the anti-SLAPP motion, it must go to specific defenses. Indeed, the defendant can eliminate the request for discovery by simply agreeing to waive whatever defense the plaintiff is requesting leave to conduct discovery on. Under no circumstances would a plaintiff be permitted to continue discovery on the other causes of action not related to the special motion to strike.

But that didn’t keep Plaintiffs from asking. One could say it never hurts to ask, I suppose, but isn’t there something to be said for intellectual integrity?

We received notice of an ex parte application, wherein Plaintiff’s counsel was seeking an earlier hearing date on a motion for relief from the discovery stay. Due to docket conditions, our anti-SLAPP motion won’t be heard until February 2015, and the first available date for the motion for relief from the discovery stay was March 2015. Since that is after the anti-SLAPP motion, it will be moot.

Here is how we opposed the motion for an earlier hearing date. We acknowledged that of course motions to shorten time should be liberally granted, but here the request was for a pointless motion. Plaintiff isn’t requesting leave to conduct necessary discovery related to the anti-SLAPP motion, which is the only discovery that is permitted following the filing of the motion. Here, Plaintiff specifically requested leave to conduct ONLY discovery NOT related to the anti-SLAPP motion. We therefore argued that the requested relief was pointless. This court’s docket is so backed up that it takes seven months to have a motion heard. Why give one of those precious motion slots to someone bringing a pointless motion?

The court apparently agreed. Motion DENIED.

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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