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.

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

SLAPP017 – An Introduction to California SLAPP Law and Anti-SLAPP Motions

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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 »

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.

Bill Cosby to Give New Deposition in Janice Dickinson’s Defamation Lawsuit

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.)

See on Scoop.itCalifornia SLAPP Law

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!)

A Real-World Application of the Anti-SLAPP Motion Analysis

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 »

Singer/actress Ronee Blakley must pay $200K to former lover

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.

See on Scoop.itCalifornia SLAPP Law

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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