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This unpublished case is our starting point.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.
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.
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.
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.
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 »
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 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
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 »
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.
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!)
In Episode 14 of the California SLAPP Law Podcast, we begin with a discussion of the interplay between anti-SLAPP motions and the Communications Decency Act.
The topic came up because of another anti-SLAPP victory we enjoyed this week at Morris & Stone. The anti-SLAPP motion we brought on behalf of our client had nothing to do with the Communications Decency Act, but the Plaintiff was also suing Yelp and RipOffReport in the same action, and they both disposed of the action with anti-SLAPP motions based on the CDA.
I would have thought this had been put to bed long ago, but I still see attorneys suing websites for content posted by third parties, so I thought we’d discuss that a little.
Our anti-SLAPP motion was granted by Judge Jeffrey Glass in the Orange County Superior Court. Take a listen for my (favorable) impressions of Judge Glass, based on the cases I have had in front of him.
In one such case, I represented a defendant who had created a spam filter, and was sued by a company because his spam filter determined that this company was sending out spam emails. In that case, Judge Glass used the “fuzzy bunny test” to determine if the CDA only protects content based spam filters. Listen to Episode 14 to learn the details of this important test.
Here’s what the CDA says about spam filters:
Section 230(c)(2) provides that “[n]o provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be held liable on account of … any action voluntarily taken in good faith to restrict access to or availability of material that the provider or user considers to be obscene, lewd, lascivious, filthy, excessively violent, harassing, or otherwise objectionable.”
Next, we review the CDA and third party content. We discuss the case of Global Royalties, Ltd v. Xcentric Ventures, where the plaintiff argued that the CDA did not protect information published by a third party on a website, since the website encouraged defamatory speech.
We also discuss the case of Batzel v. Smith, where an individual sent a defamatory letter to an organization, and that organization liked the letter so much, it posted it on its website. In that case, the court found that the website was not protected by the CDA, because the person who sent the letter had not intended for it to be published.
We conclude with a discussion of the Santa Monica 11, who sought to block a ballot measure, and are now on the hook for $31,000 in attorney fees following a successful anti-SLAPP motion