Appellate Court Issues an Important Decision on SLAPP Litigation

On July 22, 2004, the Court of Appeal for the State of California, Second Appellate District, Division Six issued an important decision regarding the protections afforded defendants under the State’s Anti-SLAPP laws.

Santa Barbara Beach Properties, L.P. managed by and through developer Bill Levy initially filed a lawsuit against Santa Barbara resident Richard Berti and his wife, alleging that Berti had breached his fiduciary duties with the intent to harm Levy’s business. After Levy filed suit, Berti, represented by Foley & Bezek, LLP, approached the Court for permission to file a brief known as a “SLAPP Motion to Strike.” The SLAPP statute (“Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”) is designed to prohibit lawsuits initiated to quell a person’s freedom of speech or access to the courts by the fear of high litigation costs. Shortly after Berti’s request, Levy voluntarily dismissed his case.

Later, when Berti filed a motion for attorneys’ fees pursuant to the SLAPP statute, Levy’s counsel argued that, because the alleged SLAPP suit was dropped before Berti filed his SLAPP Motion to Strike, the Court did not have jurisdiction to award Berti fees. In a published decision (found by clicking on this link), the California Court of Appeals agreed with Berti’s position, by finding that the Court retained jurisdiction to hear Berti’s attorneys’ fees request, notwithstanding Levy’s voluntary dismissal.