Monday, July 27, 2020
C.A. Reinstates Invasion of Privacy Action Against Bird Manella
Plaintiff Seeks $500 Million, Says Firm Gained Confidential Information on His Educational Background, Conveying It to Client, UK’s Licensing Authority, Leading to His Being Stricken From Rolls of Solicitors
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal has reinstated an action for invasion of privacy against the Century City law firm of Bird, Manella, Boxer, Wolpert, Nessim, Drooks & Lincenberg, PC, holding that a man who was stricken from the roll of solicitors in the United Kingdom, and blames that on the law firm for divulging confidential information about him to licensing authorities there, stated a cause of action.
The plaintiff, Shahrokh Mireskandari, is seeking special and general damages in excess of $500 million against the 40-lawyer law firm and its paralegal Laurie Gilbert, plus punitive damages.
San Diego Superior Court Judge John S. Meyer had sustained, without leave to amend, demurrers to Mireskandari’s second amended complaint, finding that the litigation privilege precludes liability based on the information that was disclosed by Bird Manella to its client, the UK analogue of the State Bar of California.
That disclosure led to the disciplinary proceedings in the Solicitors Disciplinary Tribunal (“SDT”).
Court of Appeal Justice Joan K. Irion of the Fourth District’s Div. Three wrote an unpublished opinion, filed Thursday, reversing the judgment of dismissal to the extent that it obliterated the invasion of privacy claim. The privilege in issue, which immunizes conduct that is reasonably related to litigation, does not pertain, she declared, explaining:
“Defendants’ communications occurred in September 2008, and the SDT did not initiate the litigation by which Plaintiff lost his ability to practice law in the United Kingdom until April 2011, more than two and a half years later. Thus, at the time of Defendants’ communications, there is no factual basis on which to find either that Defendants acted in good faith or that the prospective litigation was sufficiently serious.”
Irion did agree with Meyer that the cause of action for intentional infliction of emotional distress was not pled adequately.
Gained Law Degree
Mireskandari, born in Iran, emigrated to the U.S. in 1981, became a citizen here in 1990, obtained a law degree in 1977 from the American University of Hawaii—which was shut down by the state in 2005 based on shoddy operations—and in 1998 attended London Guildhall University Law School.
After completing educational courses, he gained status in the UK as a solicitor in 2000, and in 2006, became managing partner of Dean & Dean, a firm of solicitors, primarily non-white.
His contention is that he was targeted for retaliation by the legal establishment after he complained to a member of Parliament of discrimination against non-white solicitors, which led to an investigation.
The opinion recites Mireskandari’s allegations that Gilbert set up an account on the National Student Clear house’s Degree Verify website, which provides information about a person’s educational background under stated circumstances; that, in order to gain the account, she falsely posed as someone from whose company Mireskandari had received, or had applied to obtain, “products, services, or employment”; and that she lied in representing that she did not intend to disclose the information to a third party.
Irion’s opinion relates that Gilbert made inquiries as to Mireskandari’s records at George Washington University (in the District of Columbia) and George Mason University (in Virginia).
Bird Manella allegedly conveyed the information received by Gilbert to its client, the Law Society of England and Wales (“LSE”), which has an enforcement arm, the Solicitors Regulation Authority (“SRA”). The SRA instigates about 90 percent of the cases that are tried before the Solicitor’s Disciplinary Tribunal, which is independent of the SRA.
Irion’s opinion does not mention what representations were made by Mireskandari to the “LSE/SRA” concerning his educational background, what the National Student Clearinghouse revealed to Gilbert that was relayed to the client, or how such information could have caused what would be referred to here as a disbarment. The allegations in the pleadings likewise do not shed light on this.
However, filling in some of the blanks are exhibits to the initial complaint: reports by the National Student Clearinghouse. They indicate, as to any connection of Mireskandari to George Washington University, “No Degree—Enrollment Only” from “5/19/95 to 8/18/95,” and state, with respect to any tie to George Mason University, “Unable to Confirm—No Student Record.”
The reports also reflect a lack of verification as to two other educational institutions.
A June 21, 2012 report in London’s Daily Mail says:
“A prominent race lawyer exposed as a crook by the Mail was yesterday booted out of the legal profession and ordered to pay £1.4million in costs. [¶] Shahrokh Mireskandari, 51, was struck off after it emerged he had faked his legal qualifications and hid his criminal convictions while representing celebrity clients. [¶] The conman was found guilty of an extraordinary 104 breaches of the rules governing solicitors’ conduct by a central London disciplinary tribunal.”
Allegations in Pleading
The operative pleading sets forth, in connection with the alleged invasion of privacy by Bird Marella and Gilbert:
“As a direct, legal and proximate result of Ms. Gilbert’s unauthorized and illegal access and disclosure of Plaintiff’s confidential and private educational records and the facts herein alleged, Plaintiff has been damaged and suffered loss of reputation and standing in the community and caused him humiliation, embarrassment, hurt feelings, mental anguish, and suffering. In addition, the disclosure to LSE/SRA was a cause of Plaintiff being struck off the rolls of solicitors in the United Kingdom.”
“As a result. Plaintiff lost his ability to practice law and his firm Dean & Dean, which Plaintiff was the managing partner of, was closed, resulting in the loss of millions of dollars of income Plaintiff would have received from his law practice. Further, as a result of the loss of his law practice, Plaintiff was unable to keep numerous real properties that he owned in the United Kingdom, resulting in millions of dollars of losses in real estate by Plaintiff, all to Plaintiffs special and general damages in excess of $500 million and according to proof.”
Adequacy of Pleading
Irion not only found that the litigation privilege does not bar a cause of action for invasion, but that the pleading adequately alleged a violation of the state constitutional right-of-privacy provision.
The elements, she said, quoting the California Supreme Court’s 1994 decision in Hill v. National Collegiate Athletic Assn., are “(1) a legally protected privacy interest; (2) a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances; and (3) conduct by defendant constituting a serious invasion of privacy.”
She said the allegations of the operative pleading “set forth a legally recognized privacy interest in Plaintiff’s ‘education records,’ ” thus satisfying the first requirement for pleading the cause of action. Irion remarked:
“In later proceedings, Defendants will be free to contest any of the allegations of the [complaint] (which they have not yet answered), including whether the specific education records that Defendants actually accessed and disclosed are, indeed, sufficiently confidential and private to establish a legally recognized privacy interest for Plaintiff.”
Second, Third Elements
The jurist also said:
“The second and third elements of the cause of action, which involve mixed questions of law and fact, are whether the plaintiff has a reasonable expectation of privacy in the circumstances and whether the defendant’s conduct constitutes a serious invasion of privacy….Defendants have not established that both of these elements fail as a matter of law.”
She explained that the plaintiff “has alleged, at a minimum, the reasonableness of his expectation of privacy in this factual context and the seriousness of Defendants’ alleged invasion of this privacy” and that “each of these two elements of the cause of action presents a question of fact that cannot be resolved adversely to Plaintiff on demurrer.”
The case is Mireskandari v. Gilbert, D074976.
Becky S. James and Lisa M. Burnett of the Calabasas firm of James & Associates was joined by Encino lawyer Bernard R. Schwam in representing Mireskandari. Thomas V. Reichert of Bird Marella acted for his firm.
Irion came to Mireskandari’s rescue previously. San Diego Superior Court Judge Richard E. L. Strauss granted Bird Manella’s anti-SLAPP motion in response to the initial complaint, and the Court of Appeal reversed his order in an unpublished Sept. 28, 2017 opinion by Irion.
An anti-SLAPP motion must be based, she said, on speech or petitioning activity in the United States.
She wrote that the court “may not ignore the express unambiguous language” of Code of Civil Procedure §425.16(b)(1) “that limits motions to strike to those claims arising from an act ‘in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution.’ ”
Irion added the italics. She continued:
“This language…does not protect Defendant’s right, if any, to petition in England.”
That case is Mireskandari v. Gilbert, D070251.
In Mireskandari v. Gallagher, D071385, filed Sept. 14, 2018 and also not certified for publication, Strauss’s order granting an anti-SLAPP motion by a medical doctor sued by Mireskandari in the same action was also reversed in an opinion by Orion, on the same basis.
Federal courts have taken a different view of the scope of California’s anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16(c). When Mireskandari sued the Daily Mail and others in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, then-Judge Margaret Morrow, now president and chief executive of Public Counsel, struck some of the claims under the California statute, and awarded the defendants attorney fees in the amount of $147,176.48. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Oct. 18, 2016, affirmed.
Mireskandari subsequently dismissed the balance of the claims.
The conviction he failed to reveal to regulatory authorities in the UK occurred in 1991. The Los Angeles Times reported on March 2 of that year that Patricia Lee Darcy and Mireskandari had pled guilty to the misdemeanor of violating telemarketing registration requirement, attributing that to Linda S. Groberg, a spokesperson for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office.
The article says:
“Consumers were told by the telemarketers that they had been randomly selected to receive round-trip air fares and accommodations for two at one of a variety of locations around the world, all for less than the price of standard coach air fare. However, coach air fare is not discounted, Groberg said, and is generally the most expensive air fare with the exception of first class.
“The participants then paid $69.95 for a plastic 35mm camera or pocket stereo with headphones and a bonus trip good for three days and two nights at a variety of hotels in California and Nevada, Groberg said.
“ ‘Several consumers showed up at hotels with the certificates,’ Groberg said, ‘and no one knew anything about it.’ ”
The Times reported that Mireskandari was sentenced to three years of probation, a condition of which was serving 90 days in a work release program in Los Angeles County.
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