What Is Anti-SLAPP Statute in California ?
The anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute provides that "a cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person's right of petition or free speech under the United States or California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim." ( 425.16, subd. (b)(1).)
The purpose of the statute is to encourage participation in matters of public significance by allowing a court to promptly dismiss unmeritorious actions or claims brought to chill another's valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition for the redress of grievances. ( 425.16, subd. (a).)
The anti-SLAPP law involves a two-step process for determining whether a claim is subject to being stricken.
In the first step, the defendant bringing an anti-SLAPP motion must make a prima facie showing that the plaintiff's suit is subject to section 425.16 by showing the defendant's challenged acts were taken in furtherance of his or her constitutional rights of petition or free speech in connection with a public issue, as defined by the statute. (Jarrow Formulas, Inc. v. LaMarche (2003) 31 Cal.4th 728, 733.)
If the defendant does not demonstrate this initial prong, the court should deny the anti-SLAPP motion and need not address the second step. (City of Riverside v. Stansbury (2007) 155 Cal.App.4th 1582, 1594; Wang v. Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 790, 811.)
If the defendant satisfies the first step, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate there is a reasonable probability of prevailing on the merits at trial. ( 425.16, subd. (b)(1).)
In this phase, the plaintiff must show both that the claim is legally sufficient and that there is admissible evidence that, if credited, would be sufficient to sustain a favorable judgment. (Wilcox v. Superior Court (1994) 27 Cal.App.4th 809, 823, disapproved on other grounds in Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc. (2002) 29 Cal.4th 53 at p. 68, fn. 5; Robertson v. Rodriguez (1995) 36 Cal.App.4th 347, 358.)
In making this assessment, the court must consider both the legal sufficiency of and evidentiary support for the pleaded claims. (Traditional Cat Assn., Inc. v. Gilbreath (2004) 118 Cal.App.4th 392, 398-399.)
The California Supreme Court has recognized the anti-SLAPP statute should be broadly construed (Equilon Enterprises v. Consumer Cause, Inc, 29 Cal.4th at p. 60, fn. 3) and that a plaintiff cannot avoid operation of the anti-SLAPP statute by attempting, through artifices of pleading, to characterize an action as a garden variety tort or contract claim when in fact the claim is predicated on protected speech or petitioning activity. (Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82, 90-92.)
Accordingly, we disregard the labeling of the claim (Ramona Unified School Dist. v. Tsiknas (2005) 135 Cal.App.4th 510, 522) and instead "examine the principal thrust or gravamen of a plaintiff's cause of action to determine whether the anti-SLAPP statute applies" and whether the trial court correctly ruled on the anti-SLAPP motion. (Ramona Unified School Dist., at pp. 519-522.)
We assess the principal thrust by identifying "the allegedly wrongful and injury-producing conduct ... that provides the foundation for the claim." (Martinez v. Metabolife Internat., Inc. (2003) 113 Cal.App.4th 181, 189.)
If the core injury-producing conduct upon which the plaintiff's claim is premised does not rest on protected speech or petitioning activity, collateral or incidental allusions to protected activity will not trigger application of the anti-SLAPP statute. (Martinez, at p. 189.)