Court of Appeal:
Yegan Says Defamation Action Based on Publication of Pleading Is Not a SLAPP
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A cross complaint alleging that the plaintiff defamed the defendant by sending a copy of his Superior Court pleading to a third party is not subject to being stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute, Div. Six of the Court of Appeal for this district has held.
Justice Kenneth Yagan wrote the opinion, which was filed Monday and not certified for publication. It affirms an order by Ventura Superior Court Judge Henry J. Walsh denying a special motion to strike, pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §426.16, brought by cross-defendant Jessie James Verdun.
Verdun’s complaint alleges that Christopher Albert Reno, owner of a towing company, pulled a knife on him in the course of a brouhaha over the towing of Verdun’s vehicle, over his protest, and damaging it. Verdun sued for conversion, trespass and assault.
Auto Club Alerted
Reno had a contract with the Auto Club to tow vehicles. Verdun sent a copy of his complaint to that outfit, saying that it “should be aware of the contents of the lawsuit.”
That prompted Reno’s cross-complaint for interference with contract and defamation (as well as false imprisonment, in connection with the incident connected with the towing).
Walsh denied Verdun’s anti-SLAPP motion, holding that the first prong of the statute was not satisfied because the complaint did not arise out of a protected speech, in connection with a public issue, reasoning:
“This is a private dispute between private persons. There is no issue of public interest at stake. The Auto Club is not a public, or even a quasi-public entity. As such, the court finds that this is not protected speech.”
Yegan agreed with Walsh, saying the matter is not one in which the public is interested.
Addressing Verdun’s assertion that the allegations of the complaint, even if false, are protected by the litigation privilege, he wrote:
“But falsely telling an Auto Club representative that Reno committed a criminal assault, and then sending a copy of the complaint to the Auto Club (the republication) is not a protected activity….If the rule were otherwise, any person could shield himself or herself from liability by filing a defamatory pleading and broadcasting (i.e., republishing it) it to the world.”
The case is Verdun v. Reno, B301027.
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