Plaintiffs and appellants Balubhai Patel, DTWO & E, Inc. (DTWO), and Stuart Union, LLC (collectively, plaintiffs) appeal from the trial court’s order granting defendant and respondent Manuel Chavez’s motion to strike plaintiffs’ complaint against Chavez, pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16.
Plaintiffs’ complaint alleges that Chavez, plaintiffs’ former employee, falsely testified at a Labor Commissioner’s hearing on wage claims Chavez filed against plaintiffs, which the Labor Commissioner ultimately decided in Chavez’s favor.
The complaint alleges that, at the Berman hearing, Chavez “produced a falsified report of the claimed monies owed[,] falsely testified and gave perjured testimony in support of his complaint.” The complaint further alleges that “[p]laintiffs presented competent and credible evidence at the hearing that no monies were owed to [Chavez] on his complaint,” and that the Labor Commissioner’s ruling was illegal and/or incorrect in various ways.
The complaint characterizes this conduct by all defendants as a “state action” that “violated the constitutional and civil rights of plaintiffs,” as a result of which plaintiffs suffered damages. Based thereon, the complaint asserts a section 1983 cause of action and seeks $10 million in damages from Chavez, Su, and Huerte. The complaint also contains a petition—addressed to all defendants—“[f]or a writ of mandate vacating and reversing the [Labor Commissioner’s decision].”
On this basis, plaintiffs’ complaint asserts a federal civil rights cause of action against all defendants under section 1983 of title 42 of the United States Code (section 1983). The complaint also contains a petition for writ of mandate addressed to all defendants seeking reversal of the Labor Commissioner’s award.
In ruling on an anti-SLAPP motion, a court is required to engage in a two-pronged analysis. First, a court must determine whether the complaint alleges protected free speech or petitioning activity, and whether the claims the movant seeks to strike “aris[e] from” such protected activity. (Baral v. Schnitt (2016) 1 Cal.5th 376, 396 (Baral); Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82, 89.) If so, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to establish a prima facie showing of merit in “ ‘a summary-judgment-like procedure.’ ” (Soukup v. Law Offices of Herbert Hafif (2006) 39 Cal.4th 260, 278, 291 (Soukup).) Any claims and/or allegations as to which the plaintiff fails to make such a prima facie showing must be stricken. (Baral, supra, 1 Cal.5th at p. 396.)
On appeal, plaintiffs argue that the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply to federal causes of action, and that even if it did apply, plaintiffs met their burden of establishing a probability of success.
Plaintiffs argue that “[i]t is well established, and undisputed, that federal claims are not subject to California’s Anti[-SLAPP] statute.” The California Court of Appeal disagreed. The cases plaintiffs cite for this proposition address “the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute to claims filed in federal court,” not state court. (See, e.g., Globetrotter Software v. Elan Computer Group (N.D.Cal. 1999) 63 F.Supp.2d 1127, 1129, italics added.) An analysis of whether to apply the anti-SLAPP statute to a federal claim in state court begins with the observations that the anti-SLAPP statute is a procedural law, rather than a substantive immunity (see Briggs v. Eden Council for Hope & Opportunity (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1106, 1121 [anti-SLAPP statute affords “procedural protections”]; San Diegans for Open Government v. San Diego State University Research Foundation (2017) 13 Cal.App.5th 76, 95 [“the anti-SLAPP statute does not immunize or insulate defendants from any liability . . . [i]t only provides a procedure for weeding out, at an early stage, such claims that are meritless”] (italics omitted)), and that a forum generally applies its own procedural law to cases before it. (See Felder v. Casey (1988) 487 U.S. 131, 138 (Felder).) As such, the anti-SLAPP statute will apply to adjudication of a federal claim in state court unless either (1) “the federal statute provides otherwise” (Chavez v. Keat (1995) 34 Cal.App.4th 1406, 1413–1414 (Chavez)), or (2) the anti-SLAPP statute “affect[s] plaintiffs’ substantive federal rights,” and is thus preempted. (County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court (2006) 139 Cal.App.4th 8, 17 (County of Los Angeles), citing Felder, supra, 487 U.S. at p. 138.) Neither is the case here.
As to the first possibility, “[n]othing in section 1983 imposes federal procedural law upon state courts trying civil rights actions.” (Chavez, supra, 34 Cal.App.4th at p. 1414.) On this basis, California courts have held that the anti-SLAPP statute does apply to federal section 1983 claims a plaintiff chooses to file in California state court. (See Bradbury v. Superior Court (1996) 49 Cal.App.4th 1108, 1117–1118 (Bradbury); Vergos v. McNeal (2007) 146 Cal.App.4th 1387, 1392, fn. 4 (Vergos).)
Published cases do not appear to have fully analyzed the second possibility, however. In Bradbury, for example, the court rejected a claim that it would “violate[ ] federal substantive law” to apply the anti-SLAPP statute to a federal civil rights action brought in state court, but relied only on the procedural versus substantive distinction in Chavez, supra, 34 Cal.App.4th at pages 1413–1414. (Bradbury, supra, 49 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1117-1118; see also Vergos, supra, 146 Cal.App.4th at p. 1392, fn. 4 [relying on Bradbury]; Tichinin v. City of Morgan Hill (2009) 177 Cal.App.4th 1049, 1055–1056 [relying on Bradbury and Vergos].) We analyze the second possibility now and conclude that section 1983 does not preempt application of the anti-SLAPP statute to section 1983 claims in state court.
Section 1983 “preserves constitutional rights from infringement by persons who act under federal or state authority, not private citizens who commit wrongful acts.” (Spampinato v. M. Breger & Co. (2d Cir. 1959) 270 F.2d 46, 49.) Thus, “[a] prerequisite for any relief under section 1983 is that the defendant acted under color of state law.” (McMahon v. Lopez (1988) 199 Cal.App.3d 829, 837.) A private party is presumed not to act under color of state law. (Sutton v. Providence St. Joseph Medical Center (9th Cir. 1999) 192 F.3d 826, 835 (Sutton).) For private conduct to constitute governmental action, there must be “something more.” (Lugar v. Edmondson Oil Co., Inc. (1982) 457 U.S. 922, 939 (Lugar); Sutton, supra, 192 F.3d at p. 835.)
The Callifornia Court of Appeal disagreed on both points and affirmed the trial court’s order granting plaintiffs’ motion to strike the complaint to the extent it asserts causes of action against Chavez.
If you are 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 immediately! 209-596-4263 or 510-736-4033.
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.