Developments of Interest

New Cases of Interest - March 14, 2018

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Ralphs Grocery Co. v. Victory Consultants (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 245.  This is a SLAPP case.  The plaintiff brought a trespass case against the defendants who were the operators of petition signature-gathering company.  The defendants brought the SLAPP motion.  The court of appeal reversed the trial court finding that the trespass claim did not arise from protected activity because the petitioning activity was taking place on private property.  The court found that the store premises did not have a public character simply because they are open to the public for purchasing goods.  They were not offered for other purposes, and had no gathering areas.  The front curb and street area was designated as a fire lane.  Plaintiff also wasn't able to show a probability of prevailing on the merits.

Dickinson v. Cosby (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 655.  Another SLAPP case.  Here the plaintiff accused the defendant of having raped her in 1982.  Defendant demanded that the accusation not be disseminated and plaintiff then brought suit against the defendant for defamation.  Plaintiff also filed a subsequent pleading naming the defendant's attorney as an additional defendant and both the attorney and the defendant brought a SLAPP motion.  The court of appeal found that the litigation privilege does not defeat the defendant's claim at the SLAPP motion stage.  Plaintiff's false light and intentional infliction of emotional distress causes of action survived the SLAPP motion.  The court found that the SLAPP statute did not protect the defendant from liability for claims arising from protected rights of petition and speech, but also found that the statute does not allow for the granting of a SLAPP motion while also allowing the plaintiff to file an amended pleading.

Shahbazian v. City of Rancho Palos Verdes (2017) 17 Cal.App.5th 823.  Another SLAPP case in which a city was sued by a homeowner contending that the city had improperly issued a permit for a fence separating two neighbors.  The City filed a SLAPP motion arguing that the decisions relating to the permit were official government proceedings.  The SLAPP motion was denied and the court of appeal affirmed that denial finding that SLAPP statute does not protect a government entity's decisions to issue or deny permits.

Optional Capital, Inc. v. Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld, LLP.  (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 95.  Another SLAPP case.  In this case, the attorneys and law firms who filed the SLAPP motion made a showing that the claims against them arose from protected litigation-related communications and the court found the plaintiff had no probability of prevailing because the litigation privilege would defeat the claims as a matter of law.

Baxter v. State Teachers' Retirement System (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 340.  This case deals with the statute of limitations in Section 22008 of the Education Code, specifically Section 22008(c).  The court finds that the limitations period commences when CALSTRS has actual or inquiry notice of overpayments.  Here that knowledge was created when the information about the overpayments was sent to an entity that was a CALSTRS agent.  An action is commenced by CALSTRS within the meaning of the statute when it files an administrative pleading not when it mails a final audit report or when it reduces monthly benefits.  The court also adopted the continuous accrual theory allowing CALSTRS to seek a recoupment of payments made within the limitations.  Interestingly, the case also holds that the action necessary to come within the statute is not a CALSTRS audit letter, but filing of a statement of issues in an administrative hearing.

Rossetta v. CitiMortgage, Inc. (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 628.  The court allowed a borrower to maintain a complaint against the lender for negligent mishandling of a mortgage loan, modification applications and other conduct with the court finding that the negligent action was allowable because a duty of care under the circumstances existed including the foreseeability of harm arising from the lender's requirement that the borrower default before seeking a modification on a mortgage loan.

Yuba City Unified School District v. State Teachers' Retirement System (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 648. This case also deals with Education Code Section 22008.  Here the court found that the fiduciary duty of CALSTRS was related to its responsibility over the retirement system assets, and there wasn't a separate duty of inquiry.  The duty of a school district to furnish information did not give rise to a fiduciary duty.  Whether inquiry notice therefore existed to trigger the provisions of the statute depended on the individual facts of the case.

Burkhalter Kessler Clement & George LLP v. Hamilton (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 38. A sub-leasor sued both a sub-leasee and an alter ego defendant, prevailed against a subleasee but not against the alter ego defendant.  The court found that attorneys' fees were properly awarded to the sub-lessor against the sub-leasee, but that the alter ego defendant was entitled to recover attorneys' fees against the sub-leasor.

Central Valley Hospitalists v. Dignity Health (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 203. This is a SLAPP case in which a hospital brought a SLAPP motion against a group of hospitalists alleging unfair business practices.  The court concluded that the complaint which stated that it was not based on peer review, didn't contain allegations of protected activity and therefore didn't trigger the requirements of the SLAPP statute.

Golden Eagle Land Investment, L.P. v. Rancho Santa Fe Association (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 399.  A homeowner's association was sued for allegedly unauthorized discussions and actions resulting in injuries as part of processing requested approvals for a proposed joint development project.  The defendant brought a SLAPP motion and the court of appeal determined with respect to the open meeting cause of action that the SLAPP should have been granted, as should all other causes of action which the trial court had previously granted because they were protected communicative conduct that gave rise to plaintiff's alleged claims for relief and plaintiff failed to show a probability of prevailing on the theories presented.  Plaintiff could not obtain a remedy based on the association's protected conduct of sending letters, emails, and setting agendas and conducting meetings all in administering its responsibilities in collaboration with the association's planning activities.

Gaynor v. Bulen (2018) 19 Cal.App.5th 864.  Another SLAPP case.  The trustee brought a motion to strike a breach of fiduciary duty claim as arising from protected petitioning activity.  The motion was denied, the court finding that the trustee had the burden to show that the breach of fiduciary duty claim arose from protected activity and failed to do so.  The gist of the claim was that the trustee breached a duty of loyalty owed to the trust beneficiaries by formulating a plan to unfairly advantage a portion of the beneficiaries to the detriment of the others did not arise from protected activity.

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