Decision Highlights Split in Application of Anti-SLAPP Law
In Dwight R. v. Christy B., the Court of Appeal recently addressed the application of California’s anti-SLAPP law to allegedly illegal acts. Some confusion on this issue arises from the California Supreme Court’s ruling in Flatley v. Mauro. Although the Flatley court held that the anti-SLAPP statute does not apply where “either the defendant concedes, or the evidence conclusively establishes” that the alleged protected activity is illegal as a matter of law, at least one court has held that mere allegations of criminality are enough to deprive defendants of the protections of 425.16.
In Dwight R. v. Christy B., family therapist Christy reported to state authorities her suspicion that Dwight was an abusive father. Christy evaluated the young girl pursuant to divorce proceedings and reported her findings as mandated by state law. The report resulted in an official investigation against Dwight, which was eventually dismissed as lacking merit.
Dwight then sued Christy and others, alleging violations of section 1983 of the federal Civil Rights Act. He claimed that Christy conspired with his ex-wife and social workers to deprive him of his constitutional right to visit his daughter. Christy filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the section 1983 claims and the trial court granted her motion.
The Court of Appeal upheld the ruling under the traditional two-step anti-SLAPP analysis. First, it concluded that Christy’s report was protected activity within the ambit of section 425.16(e)(2), as a statement made in anticipation of official proceedings. Next, the Court found that Dwight’s claims were based on mere speculation and that he did not show any probability of succeeding in his claims against her.
The Court looked beyond allegations to the evidence. Concluding that it lacked uncontroverted evidence that Christy engaged in criminal activity, the Court refused to deem her conduct unprotected under section 425.16.
In affirming the order granting Christy’s motion to strike, the Fourth Appellate District’s ruling effectively rejected the recent decision by the Second Appellate District in Gerbosi v. Gaims, which held that the mere allegation of illegal activity (wiretapping, in Gerbosi) prevented the application of the anti-SLAPP law.
By holding plaintiffs to the higher threshold established by Flatley, rather than that applied in Gerbosi, the Fourth Appellate District in Dwight R. helped preserve the anti-SLAPP statute’s broad construction in favor of First Amendment rights.