In Law Offices of Andrew L. Ellis v. Yang (2009) 178 Cal.App.4th 869, the plaintiff, a law firm, brought action against their clients for breach of contract, fraud in the inducement, and intentional interference with prospective economic relations.
Clients filed an anti-SLAPP motion seeking to dismiss the complaint. A day before the hearing, plaintiff filed a request for a dismissal without prejudice pursuant to section 581, subdivision (b). Initially, the trial court ruled the dismissal had not mooted the anti-SLAPP motion and granted the motion in favor of the clients. (Ellis, supra, 178 Cal.App.4th at p. 874.)
Later, the plaintiff filed a motion to set aside the judgment. At that time, the trial court granted reconsideration on its own motion. Finally, despite the request for voluntary dismissal, the trial court held it had jurisdiction to hear the clients' anti-SLAPP motion.
Ultimately, the trial court denied the motion. The Court of Appeal found the trial court erred by hearing the motion.
Ellis recognized when plaintiffs move to dismiss the case before an anti-SLAPP motion is heard, trial courts retain limited jurisdiction to consider the merits in order to award attorney's fees." (Ellis, supra, 178 Cal.App.4th at p. 879.)
In finding error, the court wrote, "the trial had not 'commenced,' the dismissal filed by plaintiff was effective upon filing, and the trial court lacked the jurisdiction to rule on defendants' anti-SLAPP motion. " (Id. at p. 881.)