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California Supreme Court Reins in Abuse of Anti-SLAPP Law

Posted by on May 5, 2017

On May 4, 2017, the California Supreme Court issued an important opinion that reins in abuse of the anti-SLAPP law by government entities.  In Park v. Board of Trustees of the California State University, the Court ruled unanimously that the defendant public university could not invoke the California anti-SLAPP law to attack a discrimination lawsuit brought by a professor challenging a decision not to grant him tenure.  This should put a stop to a growing trend of government entities invoking that law to challenge lawsuits seeking to invalidate government decisions.

In its opinion, the Court reversed a 2-1 Court of Appeal opinion holding that the university could invoke the anti-SLAPP law because the professor’s lawsuit was based on communications the university made in the course of arriving at its decision to deny tenure, which were made in connection with an official proceeding.

The Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that “a claim is not subject to a motion to strike simply because it contests an action or decision that was arrived at following speech or petitioning activity, or that was thereafter communicated by means of speech or petitioning activity. Rather, 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.”

The Court overruled two recent Court of Appeal opinions that allowed a hospital and a hospital district to invoke the anti-SLAPP law against lawsuits by doctors challenging decisions to terminate their medical privileges or not renew a contract, holding that those courts had misunderstood a 2006 opinion by the Supreme Court, Kibler v. Northern Inyo County Local Hospital District, which held that a hospital peer review proceeding was an “official proceeding” within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP law and which allowed the district and other defendants to invoke the anti-SLAPP law in that case.

The professor’s position was supported by amicus briefs filed by the California Employment Lawyers Association, First Amendment Coalition, Consumer Attorneys of California, Californians Aware, and First Amendment Project, among others.

The Supreme Court’s opinion can be found here.

Additional discussion of this opinion can be found here and here.

 

 

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Site last updated May 5, 2017 @ 2:50 pm; This content last updated May 5, 2017 @ 2:50 pm