California Supreme Court issues two major anti-SLAPP opinions
March 5, 2019
Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson (Feb. 4, 2019, S235735) __ Cal.5th __ [2019 WL 418745];
Sweetwater Union High School District v. Gilbane Building Co. (Feb. 28, 2019, S233526) __ Cal.5th __ [2019 WL 962324]
Under California’s anti-SLAPP statute, a defendant can strike a cause of action if it arises from conduct furthering a First Amendment right “in connection with a public issue.” In defending against an anti-SLAPP motion, a plaintiff may provide supporting affidavits and evidence demonstrating a probability of success on the merits, so long as the evidence would be admissible at trial.
In Rand Resources, the California Supreme Court held that whether conduct is connected to an issue of public interest must be analyzed by focusing on “the speech at hand, rather than the prospects that such speech may conceivably have indirect consequences for an issue of public concern.” The Court concluded that city officials’ allegedly fraudulent statements denying the city’s breach of a contract relating to plaintiffs’ right to negotiate with the NFL did not satisfy this standard and were not made in connection with a public issue.
In Sweetwater, the Court held that, in supporting or opposing an anti-SLAPP motion, the parties may rely on transcripts of grand jury testimony and guilty plea narratives. Guilty pleas are proper because California law considers a declaration as equivalent to an affidavit and the pleas, when signed under penalty of perjury, are equivalent to declarations. While grand jury testimony transcripts are not themselves written declarations, the testimony contained within them is given under oath, and the Court therefore deemed the transcripts acceptable. The Court concluded that evidence introduced in support of or in opposition to anti-SLAPP motions should be disregarded only if it would be categorically barred by an incontestable objection or clear evidentiary rule.