Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Kinda v. Carpenter (Cal. Ct. App. - June 6, 2016)

The Court of Appeal goes out of its way to compliment the trial court -- Judge Ariadne Symons in Santa Cruz -- on the hard work it obviously put in on the attorney fee issue.  That's nice.  It's always good for an appellate court to show a little love when it's warranted.

That's perhaps especially true when, as here, the Court of Appeal is reversing a different portion of the appeal on the merits.

The issue here involved the dismissal of a defamation claim.  Plaintiffs say that the defendant -- their commercial landlord -- started posting up fake (and false) Yelp! reviews of their business immediately after they filed a lawsuit against him.  The timing was darn close:  the first review was posted the day plaintiffs obtained their TRO against their landlord, with the other two allegedly fake reviews posted shortly thereafter.  Plaintiffs then sought and obtained various subpoenas which showed pretty darn conclusively (in my view of the evidence) that the ISPs used to post those negative reviews were the ones registered to the landlord's home and business.  So the defamation case is going to trial; indeed, the pretrial judge found that there was prima facie evidence that would support an award of punitive damages.

But, at trial, there was a different judge -- Judge Symons.  That judge excluded all of the evidence about the Yelp! reviews on the grounds that there was "no foundation" for them; i.e., that since the plaintiffs purportedly couldn't "prove" that these reviews came from any particular person, any such evidence was inadmissible.  Which in turn meant that plaintiffs' defamation case had to be dismissed.

The Court of Appeal reverses.  Incredibly properly so.  You don't have to "prove" that the evidence at issue (the Yelp! reviews) came from the defendant.  You're instead required only to produce sufficient evidence from which a trier of fact could conclude that, yep, this stuff more likely than not came from the guy.  With all reasonable inferences viewed in your favor.

And the evidence here more than meets that standard.  In my view, way, way more.

So nice kudos to the trial judge on one issue.  And a nice reversal on the merits on the other.