Action by Attorney Seeking Determination of His Share of Settlement Not a SLAPP—C.A.
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Court of Appeal for this district held yesterday that an anti-SLAPP motion does not lie where an attorney who had undertaken a case on a contingency-fee basis and was dumped by the client after performing services sought declaratory relief as to the share he was entitled to receive from a settlement obtained by successor counsel.
Justice Audrey B. Collins of Div. Four authored the opinion which affirms an order by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Dennis J. Landin.
The judge did strike nine causes of action in the complaint brought by Pacific Attorney Group (“PAG”) against its former client Fred Panahi and his new counsel, Jalilvand and her law firm, but left intact the claim for declaratory relief. Only the appeal by Panahi and Jalilvand of Landin’s decision not to strike that cause of action was before Div. Four; PAG did not follow through with its cross appeal, which was dismissed.
Trial Court’s Decision
Landin reasoned that the nine causes of action he struck pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16, arise from litigation, satisfying the first prong of the statute (protected conduct) and that PAG failed to show minimal merit, required of it under the second prong. As to the cause of action seeking a declaratory judgment, he said in his Jan. 29, 2021 ruling:
“Unlike the rest, the seventh cause of action for declaratory relief does not allege Defendants engaged in wrongdoing in the settlement….Rather, it simply asks the court to declare the parties’ respective rights to attorney fees; it does not seek to prevent Defendants from exercising their right to their protected activity….While the relevant allegations arc relatively short, this cause of action alleges the existence, validity, and value of PAG’s lien, which is a separate issue from the petitioning settlement activity.”
The judge awarded Panahi and Jalilvand $27,469.96 in attorney fees in connection with the motion.
Appeals Court Opinion
Collins agreed with Landin. She wrote:
“The declaratory relief cause of action attacks neither the terms of the settlement agreement nor appellants’ litigation-related conduct. Indeed, even appellants’ counsel at the hearing below agreed that a declaratory relief action would be appropriate under the circumstances. Defendants’ involvement in Panahi’s litigation may be evidence of the parties’ respective rights to attorney fees, but is not the basis for PAG’s claim. PAG’s cause of action for declaratory relief therefore did not arise from protected activity.”
The case is Pacific Attorney Group v. Panahi, B311435.
Jeffrey Lewis and Sean C. Rotstan of the Rolling Hills Estates firm of Jeff Lewis Law APC represented Jalilvand and her firm, Jalilvand Law Corporation.
Michael P. Hollomon Jr. of PAC acted for his firm.
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