SLAPP’d in Palos Verdes: the Intersection of Free Speech and HOA Law 

A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation or “SLAPP” is a civil lawsuit brought to either prevent or punish another person for exercising their First Amendment right to petition the government or to speak about public issues. The primary purposes of these lawsuits is to use the courts to obtain economic or other coercive leverage over the defendants unrelated to the merits of the underling claims. In 1992, California enacted Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, as a response to these types of lawsuits. Prior to the enactment of Section 425.16, the defendants would spend years in litigation and be out of pocket thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees before their First Amendment rights were vindicated. With the protection of Section 425.16 in place, a defendant can now very quickly get a ruling on the merits of the case, get the case dismissed and get all of his attorney’s fees paid for. A defendant who believes he has been named in a SLAPP lawsuit may file a special motion to strike which, if granted, results in a dismissal of the case and immediate right of appeal.

In Colyear v Rolling Hills Community Association of Rancho Palos Verdes (Feb. 28, 2017 B270396), the Second District Court of Appeal heard a case involving First Amendment issues, California’s anti-SLAPP law and homeowners association proceedings. This is not the first time California courts have addressed First Amendment rights in the context of HOA proceedings.  Prior decisions have found that statements made in connection with HOA board elections are protected activity and fall within the scope of California’s anti-SLAPP statute.  The opinion in Colyear found that a person who files an application with a homeowners association and thereafter is sued based on that application may file an anti-SLAPP motion in response. In other words, the action of filing an application with a homeowners association — in this case a view dispute — is an action protected by the First Amendment and is subject to anti-SLAPP motions:

the issue was an ongoing topic of debate between the board and homeowners, resulting in multiple hearings, letters, and several changes to the board’s policy on the matter starting as early as 2002 and continuing up to the current dispute. In this context, Liu’s application sought to invoke the HOA process at the center of that dispute

 

This decision is another in a continuing trend in expanding the scope of anti-SLAPP protection. Lawyers practicing in the area of Homeowners Association law may find themselves unwittingly making or opposing an anti-SLAPP motion if the informal procedures of the HOA spills into the Superior Court.

Jeffrey Lewis and the other attorneys at Broedlow Lewis LLP are experienced trial and appellate attorneys who can advise you about the specifics of your anti-SLAPP issue or appeal.  Each case is different and you should consult a lawyer rather than relying on this post as legal advice for your situation.  If you are contemplating filing or responding to lawsuit or appeal with potential anti-SLAPP issues, consider hiring a certified appellate specialist as your lawyer or co-counsel.  Don’t wing it, win it.

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