Lunada Bay is a premier surf spot, located in Palos Verdes Estates. The Lunada Bay Boys are alleged to be a group of young and middle-aged men, local to Palos Verdes Estates, who consider themselves to be the self-appointed guardians of Lunada Bay.
One of their tenets is to keep outsiders away from the surf location through threats and violence. Plaintiffs are non-locals who have tried to surf Lunada Bay, but encountered harassment by the Bay Boys. They brought suit against the Bay Boys and more than a dozen of its individual members. Two of those members filed motions to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16), arguing that the allegations against them were based on protected speech and petitioning activity.
An anti-SLAPP motion presents a means by which a defendant, sued for conduct in furtherance of the constitutional right of petition or free speech, can require a plaintiff to establish that there is a probability of prevailing on the claim or face early dismissal of the action. If the defendant first establishes a prima facie showing that a claim is based on so-called “protected activity,” the burden switches to the plaintiff to establish the lawsuit has at least minimal merit. (Park v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2017) 2 Cal.5th 1057, 1061 (Park).)
“Anti-SLAPP motions are evaluated through a two-step process. Initially, the moving defendant bears the burden of establishing that the challenged allegations or claims ‘aris[e] from’ protected activity in which the defendant has engaged. [Citations.] If the defendant carries its burden, the plaintiff must then demonstrate its claims have at least ‘minimal merit.’ [Citations.]” (Park, supra, 2 Cal.5th at p. 1061.)
“A claim arises from protected activity when that activity underlies or forms the basis for the claim. [Citation.] Critically, ‘the defendant’s act underlying the plaintiff’s cause of action must itself have been an act in furtherance of the right of petition or free speech.’ [Citations.]” (Park, supra, 2 Cal.5th at pp. 1062- 1063.) “To determine whether a claim arises from protected activity, courts must ‘consider the elements of the challenged claim and what actions by the defendant supply those elements and consequently form the basis for liability.’ [Citation.] Courts then must evaluate whether the defendant has shown any of these actions fall within one or more of the four categories of ‘ “act[s]” ’ protected by the anti-SLAPP statute. [Citations.]” (Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 871, 884.)
Theory of conspiracy – conspiracy being a doctrine of liability and not a cause of action itself. (AREI II Cases (2013) 216 Cal.App.4th 1004, 1021.)
“a claim may be struck only if the speech or petitioning activity itself is the wrong complained of, and not just evidence of liability or a step leading to some different act for which liability is asserted.” (Park, supra, 2 Cal.5th at p. 1060.) When liability is asserted for the target act of a conspiracy, the preliminary speech or petitioning activity is simply evidence of the defendant’s liability, not “the wrong complained of.”
The trial court denied the motions, concluding that the allegations against the moving defendants were actually based on a conspiracy to commit assault and other torts.
Those defendants appeal.
Relying on Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation, Inc. (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 458 and Novartis Vaccines & Diagnostics, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc. (2006) 143 Cal.App.4th 1284, and the California Court of Appeal affirmed. Contreras v. Dowling (2016) 5 Cal.App.5th 394 distinguised.
If you are faced with California’s Anti-SLAPP issues, harassment, and dispicable defamation, you need a highly skilled and tenacious attorney as your advocate! Contact the Law Office of Robert Rodriguez! 209-596-4263.
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. Robert Rodriguez has practiced in the California Court of Appeal. The Law Office of Robert Rodriguez does not represent guarantees.