Justia California Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Communications Law
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The Miller Trust is the successor owner of property previously owned by spouses Jack (now deceased) and Helen. The trustees sued previous owners including the Estate of Jack Miller and a lessee, DuBois, seeking redress for environmental contamination that originated from a dry cleaning business that operated on the property in 1956-1985. DuBois filed a counterclaim. Zurich determined it had a duty to defend and retained counsel to represent the Estate. The trustees tendered the Dubois counterclaim for defense, asserting that they were additional insureds under the Estate's Zurich policies. Zurich agreed subject to an extensive reservation of rights but denied the trustees' request for independent counsel based on conflicts of interest. The trustees sued Zurich in state court, alleging breach of the contract and of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing. Zurich unsuccessfully filed an "anti-SLAPP" (strategic lawsuit against public participation) special motion to dismiss, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16, asserting that the claims “arise from allegations about the conduct of attorneys representing Zurich’s insured in the” federal action and that the trustees could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing because that conduct was protected by the litigation privilege. The court of appeal affirmed, in favor of the trustees. Zurich met its burden of demonstrating the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute but the trustees met their burden of demonstrating a probability of prevailing on the merits. A bad faith action can be subject to the anti-SLAPP statute where the basis for liability is judicial communications. View "Miller Marital Deduction Trust v. Zurich American Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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The Teamsters Union represents skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD and was campaigning to unionize University of California Davis (UCD) employees. Teamsters distributed a flyer making statements about the impact that unionizing had upon the skilled crafts employees at UCLA and UCSD. In response, Regents distributed an “HR Bulletin,” stating: “the University is neutral on the issue of unionization” and that UCLA and UCSD employees had been in extensive contract negotiations, which had the effect of freezing salaries for several years. The flier included favorable statements about UCD salaries, benefits, and grievance procedures. Teamsters filed suit, citing Government Code 16645.6, which prohibits a public employer from using state funds to “assist, promote, or deter union organizing.” Regents filed an "anti-SLAPP" special motion to strike (Code of Civil Procedure 425.16) arguing that the complaint arose from protected conduct: a statement made in a place open to the public in connection with an issue of public interest; that Teamsters could not demonstrate a probability of prevailing on its claim because the action was preempted by the exclusive jurisdiction of the Public Employment Relations’ Board (PERB); and that nothing in section 11645.6 prohibited noncoercive speech. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the anti-SLAPP motion. PERB had exclusive jurisdiction over unfair labor practices. The bulletin was not alleged to be an unfair labor practice. The bulletin could be construed as an attempt to influence the employees, so Teamsters had a reasonable probability of prevailing on its section 16645.6 claim. View "Teamsters Local 2010 v. Regents of the University of California" on Justia Law

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Six Flags, a Vallejo amusement park, features rides and animal attractions on 138 acres, including a ticketed interior portion with the entertainment activities and an exterior portion with an admissions area connected by walkways and streets to a paid parking lot. The property falls within the city’s “public and quasi-public facilities zoning district.” For many years, the amusement park was municipally owned but privately operated. In 2006, a federal district court recognized the constitutional right of an individual to protest at the park’s front entrance, which is public fora under California’s free speech clause. The following year, Park Management exercised its option and acquired the park from the city for $53.9 million; the city committed to retaining the park’s zoning designation. Management agreed to pay the city a percentage of annual admissions revenue. The city’s redevelopment agency agreed to finance the construction of a new parking structure on publicly owned fairgrounds for lease to Management. In 2014, Management banned all expressive activity at the park, including protests. Weeks later, people protested against the park’s treatment of animals at the front entrance area and handed out leaflets in the parking lot. The police and the district attorney declined to intervene without a court order. Management filed suit, alleging private trespass. The trial court granted Management summary judgment. The court of appeal reversed. While a long-time protestor failed to prove as a matter of law that he has acquired a common law prescriptive right to protest at the park, the exterior, unticketed areas of the amusement park are a public forum for expressive activity under California Constitution article I, section 2. View "Park Management Corp. v. In Defense of Animals" on Justia Law

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Gallaher is a Santa Rosa real estate developer. During the 2016 Santa Rosa City Council election, The Press Democrat published five articles about substantial independent election expenditures made by Gallaher’s son-in-law, Flater, on behalf of three candidates. Gallaher and Flater allege the articles falsely implied that Gallaher was the source of the funds and sued for defamation, libel per se, and false light invasion of privacy. Defendants moved to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. The trial court granted the motion in part, denied it in part, and permitted plaintiffs to conduct discovery on the issue of malice. The court of appeal concluded the motion should have been granted in full because plaintiffs failed to make a prima facie showing the allegedly defamatory statements were false. The articles reporting on Flater’s enormous independent expenditures, explaining Flater’s connection to Gallaher, and raising questions about the source of the funds were clearly in connection with an issue of public interest. It was incumbent on plaintiffs to unambiguously deny Gallaher’s funding of the independent expenditures to make a prima facie showing of falsity. View "Sonoma Media Investments, LLC v. Superior Court" on Justia Law

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A student approached Professor Laker, claiming that the department chair, Aptekar, had harassed her. The student brought a formal Title IX complaint. An investigator concluded that Aptekar had sexually harassed the student. Aptekar was disciplined but was allowed to remain as department chair for several weeks. Aptekar was later placed on paid leave. Laker claims that the University and certain administrators, including McVey, covered up prior student complaints about Aptekar. In February 2016, various administrators received an e-mail from the student who had originally filed the Title IX complaint, stating she was experiencing stress from continuing to see Aptekar. The University then investigated Laker based on complaints of “inspiring students to come forward to report sexual and racial harassment by Aptekar.” Laker sued, alleging defamation and retaliation The defendants filed an anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure 425.16. The court of appeal reversed the denial of the motion as to defamation. Statements Laker identified as defamatory were part of the protected activity of the Aptekar investigation. On remand, the trial court is directed to strike certain language and the claims it supports from the retaliation claim: “publishing false and defamatory statements about Laker to punish him for his ongoing efforts to protect SJSU students from sexual harassment by Aptekar, with the intent of scapegoating Laker as the person who had failed to report Aptekar’s misconduct.” View "Laker v. Board of Trustees of the California State University" on Justia Law

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In 2011, Richmond issued the city's first medical marijuana collective permit to RCCC. Other permits were later issued to the defendants. The ordinance governing the permits was amended in 2014, to reduce the number of dispensary permits from six to three, and to provide that if a permitted dispensary did not open within six months after the issuance of a permit, the permit would become void. RCCC lost its permit. RCCC sued, claiming that defendants, acting in concert, encouraged and paid for community opposition to RCCC’s applications and purchased a favorably zoned property. Defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike, Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, which provides that a claim 'arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech ... in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike," unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established a probability of success on the merits. One defendant admitted: “Our group declared war on RCCC. We conspired to prevent RCCC from getting any property in Richmond.“ The court ultimately determined that the defendants failed to show how the allegations were protected activity and denied the anti-SLAPP motion. The court of appeal affirmed, stating that the appeal had no merit and will delay the plaintiff’s case and cause him to incur unnecessary attorney fees. View "Richmond Compassionate Care Collective v. 7 Stars Holistic Foundation, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2015, the Sacramento News and Review (the newspaper), published by appellant Chico Community Publishing, Inc., investigated Sacramento’s then-Mayor Kevin Johnson and his staff’s use of city resources in the take over and eventual bankruptcy of the National Conference of Black Mayors (the National Conference). As part of that investigation, the newspaper made a request to the City of Sacramento (the City) pursuant to the Act for e-mails in the City’s possession that were sent from private e-mail accounts associated with Johnson’s office. In the City’s review of the records on its servers, it identified communications between Johnson’s office and the law firm which represented the National Conference in its bankruptcy proceedings and Johnson, along with the National Conference, in litigation connected with Johnson’s contested election as the National Conference’s president. The City flagged these e-mails as potentially containing attorney-client privileged information. It then contacted the law firm to notify it that the City was compelled to release these emails because the City had no authority to assert attorney-client privilege over the records on behalf of outside counsel. The law firm contacted the newspaper and asked it to agree the City could withhold any records it determined included attorney-client communications. The newspaper refused and contacted the City, which admitted telling the law firm that some of the emails may have been privileged. Following the newspaper’s refusal to allow the City to withhold e-mails containing attorney-client communications, the National Conference, Johnson in his official capacity as the former president of the National Conference, and Edwin Palmer in his official capacity as Chapter 7 Trustee for the National Conference filed a petition for peremptory writ of mandate against the City and its City Attorney’s Office to prevent disclosure of records to the newspaper. A requester of public records who successfully litigates against a public agency for disclosure of those records is entitled to reasonable attorney fees under the California Public Records Act. The issue this case presented for the Court of Appeal's review was whether the Act also allowed for an award of attorney fees to a requester when the requester litigates against an officer of a public agency in a mandamus action the officer initiated to keep the public agency from disclosing records it agreed to disclose. The Court concluded the answer was "no." View "Nat'l Conference of Black Mayors v. Chico Community Publishing, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2012, a Pasadena officer shot and killed an unarmed man, resulting in multiple investigations, including by the Office of Independent Review Group (OIR). The Los Angeles Times made requests under the California Public Records Act (PRA), Gov. Code, 6250, seeking disclosure of the OIR’s 2014 report. Officers sought to enjoin the report’s disclosure. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the officers' petition in 2015, finding that the report is a public document, and remanded for issuance of a new or modified judgment. The Times then sought attorney fees from the city under the PRA and from the two involved police officers and the Pasadena Police Officers Association, under the private attorney general statute (Code Civ. Proc., 1021.5). The trial court awarded the Times limited fees against the city and declined to award the Times any fees under section 1021.5. The court of appeal affirmed the award of limited fees under the PRA but reversed the order awarding no fees under the private attorney general statute, directing the trial court to award the Times reasonable fees against the officers and/or the Pasadena Police Officers Association. View "Pasadena Police Officers Association v. City of Pasadena" on Justia Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law

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HomeAway, an online forum that allows owners to list their properties for short-term rentals and connect with individuals who want to rent a house or apartment, rather than stay in a hotel, is not a party to those rental transactions. San Francisco requires owners who rent out property to obtain a registration certificate from the treasurer; short-term renters must pay a transient occupancy tax. A recent report on short-term rentals in San Francisco showed that most owners did not comply with those requirements. San Francisco obtained a court to enforce an administrative subpoena, requiring HomeAway.com to disclose data about San Francisco rental transactions. The court of appeal affirmed the order, rejecting arguments that the subpoena violated the Stored Communications Act, 18 U.S.C. 2701–2712, which regulates the government’s ability to compel disclosure of some electronic data stored on the Internet, and that enforcing the subpoena would violate its customers’ constitutional rights. Even if HomeAway is “covered” by the Act, there is no violation because San Francisco used an authorized procedure. In addition, the subpoena does not require HomeAway to disclose electronic communications but seeks very specific information about hosts who use HomeAway to offer to rent property and about bookings. It does not command HomeAway to produce any customer's electronic communication or login information. View "City and County of San Francisco v. HomeAway.com, Inc." on Justia Law