ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Myanna Dellinger
University of South Dakota School of Law

Friday, October 26, 2018

Attorneys cannot use anti-SLAPP statutes to strike client complaints

Is an attorney’s work in underlying lawsuits on behalf of clients protected speech under the United States or similar state constitutional standards?  No, held a California Appellate Court recently. Images

The California anti-SLAPP provisions state that “[a] cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim.  An act in furtherance of a person's right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue includes ... any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a ... judicial body....” 

A client alleged that his attorney misrepresented his labor law expertize when negotiating the retention agreement between the two and that the attorney conducted settlement negotiations with the opposing party in order to drive up fees.  When the attorney sued his client to collect his fees, the client cross-complained for fraud and breach of contract.  The attorney then moved to strike the cross-complaint under the California anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16. 

UnknownThe court found that merely because attorneys occur as part of litigation – the client’slitigation – a malpractice claim such as this is not subject to anti-SLAPP.  Said the court, “[i]t is the principal thrust or gravamen of the plaintiff's cause of actionthat determines whether the anti-SLAPP statute applies, and when the allegations referring to arguably protected activity are only incidental to a cause of action based essentially on non-protected activity, collateral allusions to protected activity should not subject the cause of action to the anti-SLAPP statute.”

“Although attorney retention negotiations may in a sense be ‘connected’ with judicial proceedings involving the client, they in no way relate to the substance of an issue under review in the proceedings or further the attorney's petition or free speech rights in them.  If they did, then every communication between an attorney and a client who is or may become involved in judicial proceedings would constitute an exercise of the attorney's petition and free speech rights, and every lawsuit for malpractice would be required to undergo a second-prong anti-SLAPP analysis.  No principle or authority supports such a proposition.

The case is Mostafavi Law Group v. Ershadi, 2018 WL 4690887, (Cal.App. 2 Dist., 2018)

https://lawprofessors.typepad.com/contractsprof_blog/2018/10/attorneys-cannot-use-anti-slapp-statutes-to-strike-client-complaints.html

Contract Profs, Labor Contracts, Miscellaneous, Recent Cases, True Contracts | Permalink