“Protected Activity” Rejected by California Appellate Court Under Anti-SLAPP Statute

How and where public officials share information is critical to whether the dissemination is “protected activity” under California’s anti-Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation statute, an appellate court has found. The opinion, handed down June 13, stems from a lawsuit claiming public school officials took retaliatory actions against a former board member by disseminating confidential medical information and making claims of improper activity against her.
Former Lucerne Valley Unified School District Board Member Dawn Turnbull filed the lawsuit after she accused Superintendent Suzette Davis of misappropriating school district funds. In her lawsuit, Turnbull alleged that Davis, along with two other Board members and a school “volunteer,” retaliated against her for her accusations against Davis by obtaining and disclosing Turnbull’s confidential medical information and generating and making false reports of improper activity. Turnbull claimed invasion of privacy, interference with her constitutional and civil rights and civil conspiracy to violate her rights of privacy and free speech.
The defendants, including the District, filed an anti-SLAPP motion seeking to dismiss Turnbull’s suit. They claimed their activity was “protected activity” under the statute. They asserted her medical record related to her “off-work” note in which her doctor justified her time away from work, and was a matter of public interest regarding her absences from Board meetings. Further, they asserted that the reports of improper activity concerned statements and deliberations at Board meetings, and were thus protected. Turnbull replied that none of the defendants’ actions were undertaken in their official capacities and were not related to matters of public interest.
The trial court found the defendants failed to prove their activities were “protected activities” and denied the motion. The defendants appealed. In a decision issued on June 14, Division Two of the Fourth District Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s denial of the anti-SLAPP motion and found in Turnbull’s favor. (Dawn D. Turnbull v. Lucerne Valley Unified School District, et al.)

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