Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Mendoza v. Hamzeh (Cal. Ct. App. - April 22, 2013)

You don't see a huge number of attorney fee awards imposed against a party that files an anti-SLAPP motion.  It's also unusual to see a strong negative reaction by a court to a party's failure to cite controlling authority.  Counsel generally know that if there's a case on point -- or even close to on point -- the best strategy is to cite it and then attempt to distinguish it.  Which is also the ethically required approach as well.

Here's an exception.

I don't know how defendant's counsel could have messed this one up.  Defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion claiming that a pre-lawsuit demand letter was privileged.  But there's controlling authority -- from the California Supreme Court, no less -- that clearly holds that such letters that constitute "extortion" (e.g., that threaten criminal sanctions) aren't privileged.  Although one could potentially make an argument that the two letters are somewhat different, they're darn close.  Defendant was accordingly under a duty to at least cite the contrary case in his anti-SLAPP motion.  But he didn't.

It got even worse when, upon receiving the motion, plaintiff's counsel wrote defendant's attorney a letter citing the omitted authority, requested that defendant withdraw the motion, and gave him over a month to think about it.  Defendant refused to do so.

Which is, of course, his right.  But it led to an entirely expected -- and understandable -- award of attorney's fees alongside the denial of the motion.  As well as an additional award of costs and fees once the defendant made the similarly unwise decision to appeal.  An appeal that, needless to say, was not successful.

Cite clearly controlling authority.