In Kleveland v. Siegel & Wolensky LLP, 2013 DAR 4961(2013) the California Courts of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District affirmed the denial of a special motion to strike and the award of costs and attorney fees as sanctions arising out of family trust litigation.

The Plaintiff filed a malicious prosecution suit against a law firm. The case was hotly contested and resulted in years of litigation and multiple appeals.  

After the contentious litigation, one party (the “Plaintiff”) filed a malicious prosecution complaint. The “Defendant,” a law firm, filed a special motion to strike under California Code of Civil Procedure §425.16 in response to the complaint. CCP §425.16 is commonly referred to as the anti-SLAPP statute. 

The trial court concluded that the Plaintiff’s complaint had merit and that the Plaintiff would likely prevail. Thus, it denied the law firm’s special motion to strike under CCP §425.16. The trial court also awarded the Plaintiff attorney fees and costs as sanctions concluding that the special motion to strike had been filed for improper purposes.

The court of appeal affirmed the lower court decision. The court of appeal concluded that the law firm’s anti-SLAPP petition did arise from valid first amendment activity.  However, the court of appeal also concluded that the Plaintiff was likely to prevail on the merits and that the petition was filed with the purpose of forcing a settlement, which the court of appeal found to be an improper tactic.  On that basis, the court of appeal concluded that the appeal was not meritorious and that sanctions were properly granted.