Noe hired attorney Dorit to evaluate the medical records of Noe’s deceased mother for a potential medical malpractice suit. Noe agreed to pay Dorit a $10,000 non-refundable retainer fee, intended to cover Dorit’s time spent evaluating the claim, plus “the costs of additional medical records and/or expert medical review if indicated.” The agreement stated, “Should there arise any disagreement as to the amount of attorney fees and/or costs, Client agrees to enter into binding arbitration of such issue or dispute before the Bar Association of San Francisco.”
Ultimately, Dorit said he did not think a malpractice claim was viable. Noe later asked Dorit to return some or all of the retainer fee. Dorit refused. Noe filed a request for arbitration. An arbitrator awarded Noe nothing and allocated him the entire filing fee. Because neither party requested a trial de novo, the award became binding under the Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act MFAA).
Months later, Dorit sued Noe for malicious prosecution based on the initiation of arbitration. Noe filed a special motion to strike under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute.
The anti-SLAPP statute is designed to prevent meritless lawsuits from chilling individuals’ exercise of their rights of petition or free speech. (Wilson v. Cable News Network, Inc. (2019) 7 Cal.5th 871, pp. 883–884 (Wilson).) “To that end, the statute authorizes a special motion to strike a claim ‘arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue.’ ([Code Civ. Proc.,] § 425.16, subd. (b)(1).)” (Id. at p. 884.)
“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.’ ” (Park v. Board of Trustees of California State University (2017) 2 Cal.5th 1057, 1061.) “If the plaintiff fails to meet that burden, the court will strike the claim. Subject to certain exceptions not relevant here, a defendant that prevails on a special motion to strike is entitled to attorney fees and costs. ([Code Civ. Proc.,] § 425.16, subd. (c).)” (Wilson, supra, 7 Cal.5th at p. 884.)
The MFAA was enacted to eliminate a disparity in bargaining power between attorneys and clients attempting to resolve disputes about attorney’s fees. (Schatz v. Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory LLP (2009) 45 Cal.4th 557, 564–565 .)
The court of appeal reversed the denial of his motion. A malicious prosecution claim cannot be based on an MFAA arbitration.
See Dorit v. Noe.
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.