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Horvitz & Levy LLP represented Northern Inyo Hospital in this California Supreme Court case presenting the following issue: “Is an action arising out of the hospital peer review mandated by Business and Professions Code section 809, subdivision (a)(8) subject to a special motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16, subd. (e))?” In a unanimous 7-0 decision, the Supreme Court answered that question in the affirmative.

Northern Inyo Hospital briefly suspended the staff privileges of Dr. George Kibler following a peer review proceeding and obtained injunctive relief after he had acted threateningly and aggressively toward hospital employees and patients. Dr. Kibler responded by suing the hospital and other related entities and individuals on multiple tort and constitutional theories. Northern Inyo filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike Dr. Kibler’s action, asserting that the anti-SLAPP statute applied because (1) the injunction proceedings were protected as an exercise of the constitutional right of petition and (2) the suspension proceedings were protected as involving conduct in connection with both an “official proceeding authorized by law” (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16, subds. (e)(1) & (2)) and “a public issue or an issue of public interest” (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16, subd. (e)(4)). The superior court granted the motion and the Court of Appeal (Fourth Dist., Div. Two) affirmed the order, holding that “the suspension occurred as part of an official proceeding authorized by law” and that “an issue concerning public health care has public significance.”

The Supreme Court agreed with the Court of Appeal, holding that the anti-SLAPP statute applies in a lawsuit brought by a hospital staff physician arising out of a disciplinary recommendation by the hospital’s peer review committee. The court reasoned that the doctors who participate in such peer review proceedings should be afforded the procedural protection offered by the anti-SLAPP statute because peer review proceedings constitute “any other official proceeding authorized by law.” The Kibler decision will provide additional protection to doctors who volunteer to sit on hospital peer review committees in order to insure the quality of hospital care.

Kibler is one of four important opinions issued by the Supreme Court within a two-week period that define the outer limits of the anti-SLAPP statute. (See also Flatley v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299 [anti-SLAPP statute cannot be used to strike plaintiff’s complaint where defendant’s assertedly protected speech is illegal and not constitutionally protected]; Soukup v. Law Offices of Herbert Hafif (2006) 39 Cal.4th 260 [anti-SLAPP statute cannot be used in malicious prosecution actions where the underlying lawsuit was illegal as a matter of law]; S.B. Beach Properties v. Berti (2006) 39 Cal.4th 374 [defendants may not recover attorney fees and costs under section 425.16, subdivision (c) where plaintiffs voluntarily dismiss complaint before filing of anti-SLAPP motion].)