What Does it Take to Prevail on an Anti-SLAPP Motion? The Ad Astra Team!

By: Katy Young

“SLAPP” stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation” and its primary function is to “prevent citizens from exercising their political rights or punishing those who have done so”.[1] The result is that SLAPP suits often pose as civil claims such as “defamation, conspiracy, malicious prosecution, nuisance, interference with contract and/or economic advantage, as a means of transforming public debate into lawsuits”.[2]

Achieving resolution in an Anti-SLAPP matter involves two factors: 1) the defendant must establish that the challenged claim arises from a protected activity outlined in CCP § 425.16, and once established, 2) the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to establish the merit of their claim by showing a probability of success.  In other words, an Anti-SLAPP motion is like a summary judgment motion, but ‘in reverse,’ as the defendants needs to defeat the plaintiff’s pleading by showing it is legally or factually meritless.

Recently, Ad Astra associate Wendy Hillger secured a $45,000 fee award for our client. The matter involved plaintiff American Cannabis Partners claiming unfair competition against Brown’s Lumber Company, a cannabis business in Trinity County, CA owned in part by Trinity County Supervisor Jeremy Brown. The plaintiff alleged that Supervisor Brown used his influence with the Board of Supervisors to block American Cannabis Partners from receiving any licenses to operate cannabis businesses in Trinity County, and that Supervisor Brown’s private business is liable for Supervisor Brown’s activities.

Ad Astra filed a demurrer followed by an Anti-SLAPP motion. Successful Anti-SLAPP motions dismiss the claims that are based on a litigant’s participation in a public process. Here, the court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim in its entirety on the basis that the plaintiff could not make a claim for unfair competition on the facts presented.

Ad Astra filed a fees motion, arguing that even though the case was dismissed on demurrer, the Anti-SLAPP motion was still pending and fully briefed, and the dismissal does not moot our entitlement to fees under the Anti-SLAPP statute. The court agreed with Ad Astra that Brown’s Lumber would have prevailed on the Anti-SLAPP motion and awarded our client with $45,000 in fees. We are thrilled with the result!

[1] Church of Scientology v. Wollersheim (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 628, 642 (Wollersheim)

[2] Wilcox, supra, 27 Cal.App.4th at pp.816-817