Wednesday, July 23, 2014
Declaratory Relief Action Against John Travolta Not SLAPP—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A declaratory action against actor John Travolta and a company he controls did not arise from constitutionally protected activity, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
The panel affirmed the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion seeking to strike Douglas Gotterba’s lawsuit against Travolta and Atlo, Inc. The court rejected the defendants’ contention that the suit arose from the protected activity of sending letters threatening litigation.
Gotterba alleged that he was employed between 1981 and 1987 by Atlo as an airplane pilot, and that in early 1987, he left that employment voluntarily.
Nearly 25 years following cessation of his employment, Gotterba decided to “tell the story of his life and those involved in it,” including his personal relationship with Travolta, he claimed. Gotterba said he was “unwillingly thrust” into the gossip tabloids by public revelations from another former Travolta employee.
Martin D. Singer, counsel for Atlo, learned that Gotterba had given statements to the National Enquirer, and that he planned to publish a book regarding his personal and intimate relationship with Travolta.
Singer sent a letter to Gotterba demanding that he cease making statements regarding his prior employment and relationship with Travolta. Singer warned Gotterba that he had breached the confidentiality provision of the termination agreement and “face[d] serious legal consequences.”
“We demand that you immediately cease and desist from your wrongful course of conduct which has subjected you to enormous liability and entitles my client to seek tens of millions of dollars in compensatory and punitive damages. . . . [¶] You proceed at your peril.”
Gotterba thereafter filed a complaint against Atlo, seeking declaratory relief, stating that a judicial declaration is necessary so that he may determine his rights and duties under the agreement and because Travolta “has repeatedly threatened legal action” against him “based upon alleged violations and prospective violations of the purported ‘confidentiality agreement.’” Conflicting termination agreements existed between the parties – an unsigned agreement not containing a confidentiality agreement; and an executed agreement containing a confidentiality agreement.
Atlo filed an anti-SLAPP motion to strike the complaint, arguing that Gotterba’s declaratory relief lawsuit arose from the protected petitioning activity of Singer’s prelitigation demand letters. Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Donna Geck denied the motion.
Presiding Justice Arthur Gilbert, writing for Div. Six, agreed with the trial judge.
“Contrary to Atlo’s position and arguments, Gotterba’s complaint is not based upon Atlo’s sabre-rattling demand letters. The complaint seeks declaratory relief regarding the validity of the asserted termination agreements and not the propriety of Atlo’s demand letters. Gotterba alleges: ‘PLAINTIFF desires a judicial determination of his rights and duties, and a declaration as to the validity of the [three-page] termination agreement and that PLAINTIFF is not subject to any confidential agreement with Defendants.’”
“Although the prelitigation letters may have triggered Gotterba’s complaint and may be evidence in support of the complaint, they are not the basis of the complaint.”
Gilbert relied City of Cotati v. Cashman, which found a determining distinction between “arising from” defendant’s exercise of rights and “in response to.” Thus, “that a cause of action arguably may have been triggered by protected activity does not entail that it is one arising from such.”
“If the threats of litigation were removed from Atlo’s demand letters, the same dispute would exist regarding the terms of the termination agreement, i.e., Gotterba seeks to publish a book concerning his relationship with Travolta.”
The case is Gotterba v. Travolta, 14 S.O.S. 3776.
Copyright 2014, Metropolitan News Company