Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Behunin v. Superior Court (Cal. Ct. App. - March 14, 2017)

Here's a reminder that just because the Court of Appeal decides to hear your writ petition doesn't mean that you're necessarily going to win.  Even if it simultaneously grants a stay.

The litigation here involves a lawsuit against Charles Schwab (yes, that Charles Schwab) over a failed real estate deal.  As part of the "pressure" to settle that lawsuit, the underlying plaintiff created (with the help of others) a website that painted Mr. Schwab in a negative light.  The website's here, and is chuck-you.com.  Yes, "Chuck You" is indeed a play on Mr. Schwab's first name ("Chuck") and a different word that rhymes with "Chuck" and occasionally comes before the word "You."

Which prompts Mr. Schwab to sue for defamation.  Which in turn prompts an anti-SLAPP motion.  Which in turn prompts a discovery fight about whether information relating to the formation of the web site -- which involved (in some capacity) the lawyer for the plaintiff in the underlying case -- was privileged.

The trial court decides it's not privileged and orders the production of the documents.  The losing party files a writ.  The Court of Appeal decides to hear the writ, and issues an OSC why it shouldn't order the trial court to vacate its orders.  It also grants an immediate stay on all discovery.

So if you're the party claiming the privilege, you're feeling pretty good.  Looks like you're going to win, right?

Nope.  The Court of Appeal affirms the trial court's orders, dissolves the stay, and sends the case back to the trial court.  And even awards Schwab his costs.

That's a loss.  Notwithstanding that things may have looked pretty good there for a while.

Not that plaintiffs get nothing out of the whole thing.  They at least get a published opinion that discusses their chuck-you.com web site.  Which presumably will result in at least a temporary uptick in the number of visitors to the thing.  Including but not limited to my visit earlier today.

Of course, there's a cost to that -- in particular, all the costs and attorney's fees involved in preparing and prosecuting the writ petition, as well as paying Schwab's costs in the end.  That's a pretty penny.

But at least they got something.  More hits.

Better than nothing, right?  Albeit small solace.