Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Friday, September 29, 2023


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Supreme Court Denies Review in Challenge to Renaming of Hastings College of Law


By a MetNews Staff Writer


The California Supreme Court has spurned a plea for review of a Court of Appeal opinion that affirms the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion filed by officials of what has been known since Jan. 1 as the “College of the Law, San Francisco” in an action in which the plaintiffs contend that legislation changing the name of that institution from “Hastings College of the Law” is unconstitutional.

With the matter of the special motion to strike now resolved, proceedings may be resumed in San Francisco Superior Court.

Plaintiffs, suing as “Hastings College Conservation Committee,” are descendants of the law school’s founder and first dean, Serranus Clinton Hastings, the first chief justice of California, and by alumni of the school. They contend that the name can’t lawfully be changed because the state, in return for a $100,000 donation by Hastings, agreed, by statute, that the college “shall forever be known and designated as the Hastings College of the Law” (and also that an heir or representative of Hastings would always have a seat on the governing board).

Defendant’ View

The defendants said in their opening brief on appeal:

“Plaintiffs’ suit concerns the speech that public officials will use to describe the identity and values of a prominent public institution, and it seeks to interfere with that protected expression through claims lacking in any factual or legal foundation.”

It noted that the Board of Directors of the law school voted to change its name “after a years-long deliberation over founder Serranus Clinton Hastings’s role in violence and other atrocities against indigenous people in the mid-nineteenth century,” that the Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1936 to effect the change, and the governor signed the bill into law.

Goldman’s Opinion

Acting Presiding Justice Jeremy M. Goldman of the First District’s Div. Four said in a June 5 opinion:

“We can agree that the success of plaintiffs’ claims would, at a minimum, prevent the College Defendants from expressing a new official designation for the College, but even assuming that future speech in which the College Defendants use the new name is protected activity within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute, it is not the reason plaintiffs have sued them. Because plaintiffs’ claims are not based on the College Defendants’ speech, we conclude that the trial court properly denied the motion.”

He elaborated that neither the anti-SLAPP statute, Code of Civil Procedure §425.16, nor cases interpreting it, “authorizes an anti-SLAPP motion simply because a claim would have an adverse effect on protected activity.”

‘Wrong Complained of’

Goldman declared:

“While the complaint alleges that the College Defendants ‘cannot lawfully remove ‘Hastings’ from the College’s name,’ and seeks to prevent them from doing so, the reasons plaintiffs contend the name’s removal would be unlawful are the same reasons they contend AB 1936 itself is unlawful—for example, that it would violate the contract clauses of the federal and state constitutions or would constitute an impermissible bill of attainder. The wrongfulness of any acts by the College Defendants depends on and derives from the wrongfulness of AB 1936 itself. In these circumstances, ‘the wrong complained of’…is the law’s enactment, not what the College Defendants do or say in conformity with it.”

The case is Hastings College Conservation Committee v. Faigman, 92 Cal.App.5th 323.

The defendant named in the caption is Chancellor/Dean David Faigman. He is one of 11 individual defendants in the San Francisco Superior Court action, CGC-22-602149.

The state is also a defendant but was not a party to the appeal.


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