California has an anti-SLAPP law that protects defendants from lawsuits brought to chill their First Amendment rights. When the anti-SLAPP law applies, a defendant can obtain a fast dismissal at the early stage of the lawsuit and get an award of attorney’s fees. For example, if a person is sued for defamation for writing a negative review on Yelp!, the defendant may bring an anti-SLAPP motion under the theory that the reviewer has a free speech right in connection with consumer protection issues. Likewise, a defendant sued for malicious prosecution can bring an anti-SLAPP motion under the theory that the defendant’ First Amendment right of petition (access to the courts) has been infringed. However, not every lawsuit qualifies for anti-SLAPP protection. Private communications between private individuals generally do not qualify for anti-SLAPP protection.
In Kovac Media Group v. LaPolt (Feb. 26, 2015 B247579), a defendant obtained a dismissal based on a successful anti-SLAPP motion. The Court of Appeal disagreed, reversed the trial court’s order and reinstated the lawsuit. From the opinion authored by Presiding Justice Lee Smalley Edmon:
This case arises out of a dispute between a talent manager and an entertainment lawyer over common clients. The manager alleges, among other things, that the lawyer interfered with his attempts to negotiate a lucrative contract for Aerosmith lead singer Steven Tyler to appear on the popular show American Idol, and disrupted the manager’s relationship with the band Mötley Crüe. The manager sued the lawyer, contending that her actions gave rise to multiple causes of action, including for breach of fiduciary duty, breach of the duty of confidence, intentional interference with contract, and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage.
The core of the lawsuit were a pair of emails written about the contract negotiations. The defendants urged the court to apply the anti-SLAPP law under the theory that the lawsuit concerned communications about an issue of public interest. The Court of Appeal disagreed. The mere fact that the email communications mentioned celebrities or the successful show American Idol is not sufficient to transform private email into a communication about a public issue worthy of anti-SLAPP protection. Because the anti-SLAPP law did not apply, the defendant was not entitled to a summary dismissal of the lawsuit at its early stage.
Jeffrey Lewis and the other attorneys at Broedlow Lewis LLP are experienced trial and appellate attorneys who can advise you about the specifics of your anti-SLAPP issue or appeal. Each case is different and you should consult a lawyer rather than relying on this post as legal advice for your situation. If you are contemplating filing or responding to lawsuit or appeal with potential anti-SLAPP issues, consider hiring a certified appellate specialist as your lawyer or co-counsel. Don’t wing it, win it.