Developments of Interest

New Cases of Interest - October 30, 2012

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Hawran v. Hixson (2012) 209 Cal.App.4th 256.  This is the latest in a series of ongoing appellate SLAPP decisions.  In this case, a former chief financial officer filed a lawsuit against the company he had worked for as well as its directors.  The company had provided a press release concerning an internal investigation into certain research and development test data and results and also on that same day had filed a legally required disclosure of information with the Securities and Exchange Commission.  Defendants filed a SLAPP motion in connection with plaintiff's complaint, and the trial court had granted the motion in part and denied it in part, which ruling was upheld by the court of appeal.

The court concluded that the plaintiff had not met his burden to show that his causes of action fell within the commercial speech exception of CCP §425.17, and the causes of action were therefore subject to the SLAPP statute.  Plaintiff was also unable to show that the allegedly defamatory portions of the press release were representations of fact about the company's business operations, goods or services.  The court however also found that the privileges of Civil Code §47 did not apply to the press release, and plaintiff had otherwise demonstrated a probability on prevailing on some of his causes of action, and specifically those for defamation, invasion of privacy, unfair business practices and breach of contract.  The court also found there was enough circumstantial evidence to support a prima facie case that malice had motivated the statements that were made in the press release, and allowed plaintiff to proceed on some of his causes of action.

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