New Case Law: WHITE v. DAVIS
(2023) 87 Cal. App. 5th 270
Defendants then filed their own anti-SLAPP motions against White, claiming that the applications for restraining orders arose from protected activities involving the exercise of constitutionally protected rights. In short, California’s anti-SLAPP statute allows a preliminary challenge to a lawsuit against a person for some action they took which was part of that person’s constitutional right of free speech. The point is that you have a right to exercise your constitutional rights without the threat of being dragged into court. White tried to have the court hear the motions at the same time as her applications for restraining orders. Instead, the court decided to first have a hearing on the anti-SLAPP motions.
Protected speech includes any written or oral statements made at an official proceeding, any written or oral statements made in connection with an official proceeding, any written or oral public statement in connection with an issue of public interest, and any other conduct exercising the constitutional rights of A formal written request presented to a court which asks for some form of relief, such as a Petition to Probate a Will, or a Petition to Determine Title to Property. or free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.
At the hearing on their anti-SLAPP motions, the defendants argued that White’s applications for restraining orders should be barred because her applications arose out of constitutionally protected activities and that White was not likely to succeed on the merits. White, in turn, argued that the defendants’ actions leading up to White’s applications for restraining orders did not involve constitutionally protected activity, and she was in fact likely to succeed on the merits of her applications.
The Court denied each of the anti-SLAPP motions. The defendants then appealed the court’s decision, and White cross-appealed to argue the court should have heard the applications for elder abuse restraining orders at the same time as the anti-SLAPP motions.
On appeal, White carried the day. The appellate court upheld the trial court’s denial of the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions, and it also held that the trial court abused its discretion by not hearing the applications for restraining orders at the same time.
In deciding whether to grant an anti-SLAPP motion, a trial court considers to basic points: 1) whether the defendant can establish that the challenged lawsuit actually arises from a protected activity (or, stated differently, whether the protected activity is the cause of the alleged harm); and, if so, 2) whether the plaintiff can overcome that protection by showing a probability of success on the merits of the lawsuit.
The appellate court concluded that, although the defendants’ various litigation activities are protected activities under the anti-SLAPP statute, the defendants’ alleged plans to unduly influence Thomas and change his estate plans are not. The defendants’ acts of isolating, agitating, and confusing Thomas in order to effectuate a change in his estate plans were the causes of liability justifying elder abuse restraining orders. The defendants’ protected litigation activities were not themselves the cause of the liability – those allegations merely provided evidence of the defendants’ acts of isolating, agitating, and confusing Thomas, but they were not necessary to establish the alleged liability in the underlying lawsuit. This, of course, is not to say that liability was established at this stage, but simply that the lawsuit was sufficiently valid on its face to allow the lawsuit to proceed.
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