Anti-SLAPP Motions: Courts Taking a Much Closer Look

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Two recently published California anti-SLAPP decisions reflect that courts are responding to the California Supreme Court’s decision in Baral v. Schnitt, 1 Cal.5th 376 (2016), by scrutinizing the allegations at issue in anti-SLAPP motions quite closely, often resulting in the elimination, at most, of only a few allegations or causes of action. As a result, while anti-SLAPP motions continue to proliferate, the statutory goal of “weeding out” meritless claims at an early stage, is increasingly becoming a parsing process, as courts seek to determine precisely which allegations, if any, provide the basis for a claim for relief arising from protected activity.  

This trend towards closer scrutiny is evident from anti-SLAPP motions that seek to strike entire causes of action, as in Turnbull v. Lucerne Valley Unified School District, 2018 DJDAR 5690 (June 13), as well as motions that attack only specific allegations, as in Newport Harbor Offices & Marina, 2018 DJDAR 4313 (May 9). In both instances, in evaluating whether the moving defendants satisfied their threshold burden of proving that the challenged allegations arise from constitutionally protected activity subject to C.C.P. Section 425.16, subd. (b), these courts have focused on the plaintiffs’ allegations (and the parties’ declarations) in excruciating detail.  

In Turnbull, the plaintiff alleged that the defendant school board and its representatives  retaliated against her, resulting in the loss of her job. She alleged that the retaliation occurred, in part, by causing a medical off-work note from her doctor to be published on social media and, in part, by pressuring her to resign. Defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion sought to strike all of plaintiff’s causes of action. The trial court denied it, and the Court of Appeal affirmed, concluding that defendants failed to satisfy their first-prong burden of proving that any of the causes of action arose from protected activity.

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