California’s anti-SLAPP law (“strategic lawsuit against public participation”) is a powerful tool for defendants in cases arising from their exercise of the “right of petition or free speech … in connection with a public issue,” which courts have construed quite broadly. An anti-SLAPP motion can knock out a case at its very beginning, before discovery (which is automatically stayed) takes place and other costs accrue. If the defendant wins, it is automatically entitled to attorney fees.
On August 1, 2016 the California Supreme Court expanded the availability of this remedy. In Baral v. Schnitt, the court approved a line of cases holding that an anti-SLAPP motion may be used to strike not just an entire complaint or cause of action, but also particular portions of a plaintiff’s complaint. The decision rejected other cases holding that if the complaint alleges unprotected as well as protected activity (a “mixed cause of action”), then the anti-SLAPP motion fails entirely.
The ruling holds that the “refusal to permit anti-SLAPP motions to reach distinct claims within pleaded counts undermines the central purpose of the statute: screening out meritless claims that arise from protected activity, before the defendant is required to undergo the expense and intrusion of discovery.”
“[T]he Legislature’s desire [was] to require plaintiffs to show a probability of prevailing on ‘the claim’ arising from protected activity, not another claim that is based on activity that is beyond the scope of the anti-SLAPP statute but that happens to be included in the same count.”