After successfully obtaining summary judgment on a lawsuit brought by his former employer, Antonio Cuevas-Martinez sued the employer and their attorney (collectively, respondents) for malicious prosecution. Respondents filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the complaint. (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16.) The trial court granted the motion, concluding Cuevas-Martinez failed to present prima facie evidence respondents filed the lawsuit without probable cause.
The court based its ruling on Jarrow Formulas, Inc. v. LaMarche (2003) 31 Cal.4th 728, which held the entry of summary judgment on a prior lawsuit for insufficient evidence does not, by itself, establish a probability of prevailing on the merits of a subsequent malicious prosecution claim. (Id. at p. 742.)
To survive anti-SLAPP scrutiny, a plaintiff need only establish their cause of action has “minimal merit.” (Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82, 89.) Applying a “summary-judgment-like” test (Taus v. Loftus (2007) 40 Cal.4th 683, 714), a court should accept as true the admissible evidence favorable to Cuevas-Martinez, and evaluate respondents’ evidence only to determine whether it defeats Cuevas-Martinez’s showing as a matter of law. (Soukup v. Law Offices of Herbert Hafif (2006) 39 Cal.4th 260, 291 [courts must draw “every legitimate favorable inference” from the plaintiff’s evidence].) In other words, courts determine “whether a prima facie showing has been made that would warrant the claim going forward.” (HMS Capital, Inc. v. Lawyers Title Co. (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 204, 212; Zamos v. Stroud (2004) 32 Cal.4th 958, 965 [“Whether plaintiffs have established a prima facie case is a question of law”].)
To succeed, a malicious prosecution plaintiff must show the defendant (i) initiated an action that was ultimately terminated in the plaintiff’s favor and (ii) brought or maintained that action without probable cause and (iii) with malice. (Soukup, supra, 39 Cal.4th at pp. 292, 296; Zamos, supra, 32 Cal.4th at p. 960.) Probable cause “must exist for every cause of action advanced in the underlying action.” (Soukup, at p. 292, italics added.) Thus, a cause of action for malicious prosecution “‘lies when but one of alternate theories of recovery is maliciously asserted.’” (Ibid.; Crowley v. Katleman (1994) 8 11 Cal.4th 666, 681 [a litigant commits malicious prosecution by bringing an action charging multiple grounds of liability when some, but not all, of those grounds were asserted with malice and without probable cause].)
On appeal, Cuevas-Martinez argues Jarrow is inapplicable because he did not rely on the mere fact of summary judgment victory, but instead submitted evidence that, if credited by a trier of fact, would support a verdict in his favor. The California Court of Appeal agreed CuevasMartinez has demonstrated his claim has the requisite minimal merit to survive antiSLAPP scrutiny, and therefore reversed.
If you are maliciously prosecuted and then faced with California’s Anti-SLAPP issues, you need a highly skilled and tenacious attorney as your advocate! Contact the Law Office of Robert Rodriguez!
Robert Rodriguez has prosecuted and defended California’s Anti-SLAPP law Section 425.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure, et seq. in the State of California courts. Robert Rodriguez has litigated well over 100 family law cases and civil litigation matters including personal injury motor vehicle cases, dog bite and slip & fall cases, breach of contract, defamation & invasion of privacy, fraud, unfair business practice, malicious prosecution, workplace and employment matters including sexual harassment, wrongful termination, wage & hour violations, discrimination pursuant to the FEHA, Gov’t Code §§ 12940 et seq., violations of the FMLA & Pregnancy Leave, Civil Rights discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in the State of California and California federal district courts.
* Disclaimer – Robert Rodriguez is licensed to practice only in the State of California & this analysis is applied only under State of California law. Robert Rodriguez is also admitted to practice in the U.S. District Courts, Central, Northern & Eastern Districts of California.