CERTIFIED FOR PARTIAL PUBLICATION*
IN THE COURT OF APPEAL OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA
THIRD APPELLATE DISTRICT
GEORGE TERRY et al.,
Plaintiffs and Appellants,
(Super. Ct. No. CV04364)
DAVIS COMMUNITY CHURCH et al.,
Defendants and Appellants.
APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Yolo
County, Thomas Edward Warriner, J. Affirmed.
Law Office of Robert A. Carichoff and Robert A. Carichoff
for Plaintiffs and Appellants.
Ishikawa Law Office and Brendon Ishikawa; Law Offices of
Poulos & Fullerton and Joan Poulos for Defendants and
Plaintiffs George Terry and Wendy Terry allege they were
falsely accused of having an inappropriate sexual relationship
* Pursuant to California Rules of Court, rule 976.1, this opinion
is certified for publication with the exception of parts IV and
V of the DISCUSSION.
with a minor female in their work as church youth group leaders.
Plaintiffs appeal from a judgment and attorney’s fee award,
following the granting of a motion to strike the complaint as a
strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) under
Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16,1 filed by defendants
Davis Community Church, affiliated with United Presbyterian
Church in the USA (the Church), Pastor Mary Lynn Tobin, and
Church leaders/affiliates Lynn DeLapp, Gary Albertson, Michael
Coleman, and Sandra Lommasson.
Plaintiffs contend this is not
an anti-SLAPP case because (1) the lawsuit does not arise from
acts in furtherance of the right to petition or free speech
regarding a public issue, and (2) plaintiffs will probably
prevail on the merits.
Defendants cross-appeal from the amount
of attorney’s fees awarded to them.
In the published portion of the opinion, we shall conclude
the trial court properly granted the anti-SLAPP motion.
unpublished portion, we affirm the trial court’s award of
attorney’s fees and award defendants their reasonable fees for
defending against the appeal.
We shall therefore affirm the
judgment and attorney’s fee award and deny the cross-appeal.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
In March 2004, plaintiffs filed a complaint for (1) libel,
(2) slander, (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress,
1 Undesignated statutory references are to the Code of Civil
(4) negligent infliction of emotional distress, and
(5) preliminary injunction and permanent injunction.
The first amended complaint alleged as follows:
Wendy Terry was employed by the Church as Minister with
Youth, until she resigned on February 10, 2004.
The libel count alleged defendants published a false report
on February 19, 2004, and twice on February 22, 2004, stating
(1) George Terry was a sexual predator who engaged in an
inappropriate sexual relationship with a minor female Church
member, and (2) Wendy Terry was involved in the relationship.
The report was read by over 100 Church members and non-member
parents of youths.
An anonymous source mailed fliers to
The slander count alleged that defendants reiterated the
report’s contents, said plaintiffs were “liars” and needed
therapy, and said George Terry was “delusional.”
The third and fourth counts alleged intentional and
negligent infliction of emotional distress based on the
The fifth count sought to enjoin
defendants from further publications.
The trial court denied plaintiffs’ ex parte application for
a preliminary injunction.
On May 13, 2004, defendants filed a section 425.16 motion
to strike the complaint because it arose from acts protected
under free speech and petition rights guaranteed by the federal
and state Constitutions, and plaintiffs were not likely to
prevail on the merits.
The motion attached as an exhibit the
confidential report (the report) of the Church governing body’s
investigative committee, which stated it was written to the
Church’s “Session” (governing body) as a report of an
investigation prompted by a formal complaint made on February 8,
2004, by parents of a Church youth group member, pursuant to the
Presbyterian Church’s constitution.
The report said plaintiffs’
resignation and withdrawal from Church membership on February 12
obviated the need for a church trial, but the committee believed
the charges would have been sustained in a church trial.
The report included the following statements:
In December 2003, Pastor Tobin spoke with plaintiffs about
the insubordinate tone of their postings on the youth group
website and about her observations that plaintiffs were focusing
an inordinate amount of attention on a particular youth group
member (the girl).
(A police report, which found insufficient
evidence of a crime, gave the girl’s age as 16.)
On February 2,
2004, the girl’s parents and the pastor told plaintiffs not to
spend so much time with the girl.
The parents later found files
of computer correspondence between their daughter and George
Based on these documents (50 single-spaced pages of e-
mails and more than 80 single-spaced pages of on-line “chat,”
over a two-month-plus period), the girl’s parents made a formal
complaint to the Church on February 8, 2004.
Some examples of 34-year-old George Terry’s communications
to the girl, quoted verbatim in the report, are:
“[Y]ou being at home was just so right. . .like
confirmation that you are supposed to be a part of my life.
here were my most favorite parts of that night: hugging you in
the living room.
getting to hold your hand (or parts of it
[smiley face drawing]) under the blanket.
you resting your head
on my shoulder and me getting to kiss your head.
and holding your hand.
[¶] btw [by the way], i should say
something about the ‘blanket thing’.
i don’t know how you
felt/feel about it, but even if it was a bit secretive, i really
liked being able to rest my hand on your leg and hold your hand.
i guess you and i don’t really talk too much about the handholding and the other physical contact. . .for me, i get a whole
lot out of holding your hand, or rubbing your back, or
whatever. . .being with you is wonderful.
being next to you is
but, perhaps because of the intentionality of the
contact, holding your hand, rubbing your back, things like that,
does that make sense?
i don’t want to over-
analyze and kill something special, but i wanted to tell you
those moments are always the ones that stick out most
to me in my remembrance of times with you. . .because they’re
not ‘accidental displays of affection.’”
“i don’t want you to freak out about me being sad that
i don’t get to spend as much time as i’d like around you. . .you
would freak out if you knew how much time i actually wanted to
be around you!”
“i love you so much. . .and i know that you may never
truly experience from me what that really means; i know i can
never bring you as much joy, as much happiness, as much a sense
of being loved as you brought me.
i wish i could.
still dreaming. . .and who knows?
maybe some of my other dreams
for you--for us--will come true.
i love you.”
“[W]endy asked you for a kiss.
i talked to her
afterward about how that made me feel again this sense of
loss. . .not that i would ask you to kiss me; i mean, that’s
almost a special prerogative that wendy gets.
it just pointed
up to me, yet again, that i am so limited in what i can do with
you. . . .”
After the February 2 meeting with the girl’s parents,
George Terry wrote to the girl that “on the other side of the
meeting, everything is good, right?
the meeting went.
no matter how
because ultimately, the meeting means, meant
you know that i love you. . .absolutely, fully, in
every way, and unconditionally.
and because it is so absolute
and unconditional, there is nothing that can change that--except
to make my love for you even more full.
need you in my life.
and i always will.
and you know that i
love you and need you.
i love you so much [girl’s name] - your everlasting
An undated communication said:
much. . .and i don’t want to lose you.
“i love you so
i am sorry if it might
disappoint you that i will lie a little to keep you in my
life. . .i j[u]st know that for mary lynn [Tobin] that would
mean that i am inappropriate with you.
and what’s so maddening
is that on [day before the girl’s 18th birthday], it will be the
same as today for them but somehow, magically on [day of the
girl’s 18th birthday] i will be able to be alone with you or
talk to you on the phone or spill my deepest secrets to [you]
(although i will continue to do the last as long as you let me).
i love you with all that i am, and will always.”
The report said it was the “opinion” of the investigative
committee that George Terry’s correspondence to the girl
“describes a trajectory of increasing physical contact, from
hugs to back rubs to holding hands with George’s hand on the
complainants’ daughter’s leg under a blanket.”
further opined George Terry’s correspondence described a pattern
of increasing intimacy in the tone of the language, including
counting the hours until he could see her, arranging meetings or
phone conversations, hoping he would get to sleep near her at a
youth event so he could hear her breathing.
The committee also
opined George Terry’s correspondence showed a pattern of
increasing secretiveness and a pattern of disobedience and
defiance of directives concerning his relationship with the
The report related plaintiffs’ response to the complaint of
the girl’s parents, as follows:
serious errors in judgment.
Plaintiffs agreed they made
George Terry acknowledged he was
the author of the written correspondence to the girl, and some
of the messages were inappropriate in choice of language.
Terry acknowledged she was fully aware of George’s activities.
Plaintiffs insisted their intentions were good, and there was no
inappropriate physical conduct or sexual misconduct.
viewed themselves not as mentors of the youths, but as equals.
Plaintiffs asserted their conduct with the girl was an effort to
restore what they perceived to be the girl’s low self-esteem.
The report noted Wendy Terry tendered her resignation on
February 10, 2004.
On February 12, 2004, plaintiffs withdrew
from Church membership.
Also on February 12, 2004, Wendy Terry
wrote a letter to “[m]embers and [f]riends of [the Church],”
stating that she decided to resign because plaintiffs “have made
serious errors in judgment that have ended in the unintentional
hurt of several people in the church.”2
This letter was enclosed
with a February 13, 2004, letter from Pastor Tobin to friends
and members of the Church, giving notice of the resignation and
explaining that some parents had brought a complaint about
plaintiffs’ dealings with the parents’ child, and an
investigation commenced, but Wendy Terry resigned in order to
Plaintiffs do not dispute defendants’ assertion that this
letter (which plaintiffs claim was written at Pastor Tobin’s
urging) was sent to 986 persons.
allow the congregation to move forward in healing.
pastor’s suggestion, plaintiffs spoke to the youth group.
The report also observed:
“Following Wendy Terry’s
resignation and George and Wendy’s commitment that they would
cease all contact with the youth indefinitely, a member of the
youth group contacted Wendy by telephone to ask when they might
be able to communicate with them again.
Wendy told the youth
that youth could send emails or other electronic messages, but
George and Wendy could not respond, that youth could call but
George and Wendy could not call them, and that after a month the
limits on contact would end.
[¶] Given the willfulness,
deception and lack of trustworthiness displayed by the Terrys,
the committee is concerned that the Terrys might not remain out
of contact with [the Church’s] youth for long, contrary to their
expressed commitment to Pastor Tobin and this committee.
Indeed, it appears they are already violating this promise which
could make it difficult for the youth group and the congregation
to move on in healing.”
The report concluded that both plaintiffs exhibited gross
misconduct, negligence, and insubordination, to the detriment of
at least one member of the Church’s youth group, warranting
their resignation and removal from contact with the youths.
The report recommended among other things that the Church
should update its sexual harassment policy, clarify appropriate
boundaries for interpersonal conduct, involve members of the
youth group and their parents in the selection of new youth
leaders, and provide immediate support to youth group members
and their families.
The investigative committee noted it had
not investigated whether there were similar inappropriate
communications with other group members, and parents of youth
group members should check their computers.
The report was discussed in a February 19 closed meeting of
the Church session and at two meetings on February 22, 2004,
with parents of youth group members.
The Church had received
many inquiries from parents and concluded they had a right to
know about the investigation.
Defendants distributed copies of
the report at the meetings and took care to collect all copies
as the meetings ended.
About 100 people saw the report.
Plaintiffs filed an opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion,
arguing in part that the defamation did not involve an issue of
public interest and was not made in a public forum (because
defendants were careful to limit the number of people who saw
The trial court granted defendants’ motion to strike the
complaint, stating the complaint arose from protected activity,
and plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a probability of prevailing
on the claims, due to a lack of admissible evidence negating any
of defendants’ privileges or defenses.
Defendants filed a motion for attorney’s fees under section
The trial court awarded fees to defendants in the
amount of $10,500.
Plaintiffs appeal from the judgment entered following the
granting of the motion to strike the complaint and the
postjudgment order awarding attorney’s fees.
appeal the amount of the attorney’s fees award.
Section 425.16 and the Standard of Review
Section 425.16, known as the anti-SLAPP law, provides in
“(a) The Legislature finds and declares that there has been
a disturbing increase in lawsuits brought primarily to chill the
valid exercise of the constitutional rights of freedom of speech
and petition for the redress of grievances.
finds and declares that it is in the public interest to
encourage continued participation in matters of public
significance, and that this participation should not be chilled
through abuse of the judicial process.
To this end, this
section shall be construed broadly.
“(b)(1) A cause of action against a person arising from any
act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of
petition or free speech under the United States or California
Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject
to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that
the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that
the plaintiff will prevail on the claim.
[¶] (2) In making its
determination, the court shall consider the pleadings, and
supporting and opposing affidavits stating the facts upon which
the liability or defense is based.”
As stated in Navellier v. Sletten (2002) 29 Cal.4th 82
“Section 425.16 posits . . . a two-step process for
determining whether an action is a SLAPP.
First, the court
decides whether the defendant has made a threshold showing that
the challenged cause of action is one arising from protected
(§ 425.16, subd. (b)(1).)
‘A defendant meets this
burden by demonstrating that the act underlying the plaintiff’s
cause fits one of the categories spelled out in section 425.16,
subdivision (e)’ [citation].
If the court finds that such a
showing has been made, it must then determine whether the
plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the
“[I]n order to establish the requisite probability of
prevailing (§ 425.16, subd. (b)(1)), the plaintiff need only
have ‘“stated and substantiated a legally sufficient claim.”’
‘Put another way, the plaintiff “must demonstrate
that the complaint is both legally sufficient and supported by a
sufficient prima facie showing of facts to sustain a favorable
judgment if the evidence submitted by the plaintiff is
“Only a cause of action that satisfies both prongs of the
anti-SLAPP statute--i.e., that arises from protected speech or
petitioning and lacks even minimal merit--is a SLAPP, subject to
being stricken under the statute.”
(Navellier, supra, 29
Cal.4th at pp. 88-89.)
A ruling on a section 425.16 motion is reviewed de novo.
(Thomas v. Quintero (2005) 126 Cal.App.4th 635, 645.)
includes whether the anti-SLAPP statute applies to the
Furthermore, we apply our
independent judgment to determine whether [plaintiffs’] causes
of action arose from acts by [defendants] in furtherance of
[defendants’] right of petition or free speech in connection
with a public issue.
Assuming these two
conditions are satisfied, we must then independently determine,
from our review of the record as a whole, whether [plaintiffs
have] established a reasonable probability that [they] would
prevail on [their] claims.
Plaintiffs contend their lawsuit does not arise from
Section 425.16, subdivision (e) (subdivision (e)),
“As used in this section, ‘act in furtherance of a
person’s right of petition or free speech under the United
States or California Constitution in connection with a public
(1) any written or oral statement or writing
made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or
any other official proceeding authorized by law; (2) any written
or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue
under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or
judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by
law; (3) any written or oral statement or writing made in a
place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an
issue of public interest; (4) or any other conduct in
furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of
petition or the constitutional right of free speech in
connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest.”
Plaintiffs argue the alleged defamatory statements were not
made in connection with official proceedings authorized by law,
were not made in a public forum, and were not made in connection
with a public issue or issue of public interest.
We need not
address the points about official proceedings or public forum,
because we shall conclude this lawsuit arises from protected
activity under subdivision (e)(4) -- “any other conduct in
furtherance of the exercise of . . . the constitutional right of
free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of
Though not addressed by the parties, subdivision (e)(4)
does not require a public forum (unlike subdivision (e)(3),
which speaks of statements “made in a place open to the public
or a public forum”).
Thus, even before the Legislature added
subdivision (e)(4) to section 425.16, Averill v. Superior Court
(1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 1170 held private conversations about
public issues were protected under section 425.16.
the plaintiff, a charitable organization, planned to place a
shelter in the defendant’s neighborhood.
The defendant was a
vocal critic of the project at planning commission hearings.
However, the organization’s slander lawsuit complained only of
comments the defendant had made to her employer asking that the
employer not support the organization as a Christmas charity.
(Id. at p. 1173.)
The Fourth Appellate District in Averill
concluded section 425.16 should have broad application and did
After Averill, supra, 42 Cal.App.4th 1170, the Legislature
amended section 425.16, adding subdivision (e)(4) and adding to
subdivision (a) the mandate that “this section shall be
(Stats. 1997, ch. 271, § 1.)
Committee cited with approval Averill and cited with disapproval
case law criticizing Averill.
(Sipple v. Foundation for Nat.
Progress (1999) 71 Cal.App.4th 226, 236.)
This background was
mentioned in Wilbanks v. Wolk (2004) 121 Cal.App.4th 883, where
the First Appellate District said a public forum was present,
but even if it was not present, subdivision (e)(4) included
conduct in furtherance of free speech rights “regardless whether
that conduct occurs in a place where ideas are freely exchanged.
Section 425.16, therefore, governs even private communications,
so long as they concern a public issue.”
(Id. at p. 897 and fn.
4, citing Averill and legislative amendment.)
Though not cited by the parties, we note our opinion in
Weinberg v. Feisel (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 1122, said private
communications about private matters, while not totally
unprotected by the First Amendment, warrant no special
protection against liability for defamation when they are false
and damaging to the subject’s reputation.
(Id. at p. 1132.)
Weinberg, the plaintiff and the defendant were aficionados of
token collecting and members of a 700-member National Token
Collectors’ Association that sponsored token shows.
(Id. at p.
The plaintiff sued for libel and slander, alleging the
defendant published statements in the association’s monthly
newsletter that one of his tokens disappeared after it was shown
to another collector.
The defendant identified the plaintiff as
the thief in letters sent to more than 20 token collectors,
suggesting he should be barred from token shows.
(Id. at pp.
The defendant contacted the police, not to report a
theft, but to say that the plaintiff had a violent temper and
had been stealing at the shows, and people were in fear for
their lives if the plaintiff attended an upcoming show.
We concluded the case presented a private dispute
about a private controversy.
(Id. at pp. 1132, 1134-1135 [the
fact that the defendant accused the plaintiff of criminal
conduct did not make the accusations a matter of public
interest, because he did not report his suspicions to law
enforcement or pursue civil charges].)
We did not discuss
whether subdivision (e)(4) could apply without a public forum.
We conclude subdivision (e)(4) applies to private
communications concerning issues of public interest.
We have said that section 425.16 “does not provide a
definition for ‘an issue of public interest,’ and it is doubtful
an all-encompassing definition could be provided.
statute requires that there be some attributes of the issue
which make it one of public, rather than merely private,
A few guiding principles may be derived from
First, ‘public interest’ does not
equate with mere curiosity.
Second, a matter of
public interest should be something of concern to a substantial
number of people.
Thus, a matter of concern to the
speaker and a relatively small, specific audience is not a
matter of public interest.
Third, there should be
some degree of closeness between the challenged statements and
the asserted public interest [citation]; the assertion of a
broad and amorphous public interest is not sufficient
Fourth, the focus of the speaker’s conduct should
be the public interest rather than a mere effort ‘to gather
ammunition for another round of [private] controversy . . . .’
Finally, ‘those charged with defamation cannot, by
their own conduct, create their own defense by making the
claimant a public figure.’
A person cannot turn
otherwise private information into a matter of public interest
simply by communicating it to a large number of people.
(Weinberg v. Feisel, supra, 110 Cal.App.4th at
We rejected the plaintiff’s argument that an
accusation of criminal activity is always a matter of public
interest, because the defendant had “not taken action intended
to result in a criminal investigation . . . .”
(Id. at p.
Here, the communications clearly involved issues of public
interest, because they involved the societal interest in
protecting a substantial number of children from predators, and
the matter was referred to the Davis Police Department for
investigation (as reflected in the confidential police report
submitted to the trial court for judicial notice, for which we
granted a motion to augment the record on appeal).
George Terry passed a lie detector test, and the Davis Police
Department concluded on February 24, 2004, that there was
insufficient evidence of a crime, that does not negate the
public interest in the meetings on February 19 and 22, which
were the subject of the lawsuit.3
Plaintiffs characterize the issue in this case as a private
relationship between George Terry and the girl.
issue as to whether or not an adult who interacts with minors in
a church youth program has engaged in an inappropriate
relationship with any of the minors is clearly a matter of
The public interest is society’s interest in
3 The Davis Police Department apparently investigated for, but
concluded there was insufficient evidence of, a crime under
Penal Code section 647.6, which says any person who “annoys or
molests any child under the age of 18” shall be punished by a
fine and/or imprisonment in county jail for not more than one
year. Penal Code section 647.6 requires an act that is
objectively and unhesitatingly viewed as irritating or
disturbing, prompted by an abnormal sexual interest in children.
(People v. Lopez (1998) 19 Cal.4th 282, 290.)
protecting minors from predators, particularly in places such as
church programs that are supposed to be safe.
It need not be
proved that a particular adult is in actuality a sexual predator
in order for the matter to be a legitimate subject of
Here, for example, the report recommended among
other things that the Church should update its sexual harassment
policy, clarify appropriate boundaries for interpersonal
conduct, and involve members of the youth group and their
parents in the selection of new youth leaders.
themselves submitted a declaration from a person who was present
at the February meetings, who said the discussions included
“ways in which the Church could keep sexual predators out of
leadership positions and away from Church youth.
suggestions ranged from keeping [plaintiffs] away from all
children associated with the Church, to obtaining a restraining
order against [plaintiffs], to background checks, to finger
printing . . . .”
In M.G. v. Time Warner, Inc. (2001) 89 Cal.App.4th 623
(M.G.), a magazine and television program published a photograph
of a little league team to illustrate stories about adult
coaches who sexually molest youths playing team sports.
The team’s manager had pleaded guilty to molesting
Plaintiffs (four players who were
molested, four players who were not molested, and two assistant
coaches) sued for invasion of privacy.
(Id. at p. 627.)
held the lawsuit did involve an issue of public interest under
section 425.16, though the trial court properly denied the
defense motion to strike in view of the likelihood that the
plaintiffs would prevail on the merits of their invasion of
(Id. at p. 629.)
M.G. is distinguishable, since
it involved a convicted sexual predator.
concerns us here, the M.G. court said:
“Although plaintiffs try
to characterize the ‘public issue’ involved as being limited to
the narrow question of the identity of the molestation victims,
that definition is too restrictive.
The broad topic of the
article and the program was not whether a particular child was
molested but rather the general topic of child molestation in
youth sports, an issue which, like domestic violence, is
significant and of public interest.”
(Ibid.; see also,
Lieberman v. KCOP Television, Inc. (2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 156,
164-165 [unlawful dispensing of controlled substances was an
issue of public interest, and few problems affecting the health
and welfare of our population, particularly our young, cause
greater concern than the escalating use of controlled
Here, the broad topic of the report and the meetings was
the protection of children in church youth programs, which is an
issue of public interest.
This is not to say that George Terry
in fact molested the girl.
Rather, George Terry’s actions in
engaging in a secretive and inappropriate relationship with the
girl gave the Church and parents of youth group members cause
for concern and opened for discussion the topics of whether
other children were affected and how to prevent such
Plaintiffs argue in a footnote that M.G., supra, 89
Cal.App.4th 623, said the broad topic of child molestation was
one of public interest, but the narrow topic of an individual
victim’s identity was not.
Plaintiffs say, “same here.”
undeveloped argument ignores M.G.’s conclusion that focus on the
narrow topic was too restrictive.
Plaintiffs claim that, in order to be a matter of public
interest under section 425.16, the issue must affect a very
large number of people -- a standard not met in this case, where
defendants limited disclosure of the report to a few dozen
people, at most 100 persons.
Plaintiffs cite Rivero v. American
Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO
(2003) 105 Cal.App.4th 913 (Rivero), which held the trial court
properly denied an employee union’s motion to strike a
defamation complaint by a supervisor of eight janitors at a
The union published information asserting
the plaintiff was suspended from his job when his subordinates
complained he had solicited bribes (borrowed or extorted $10,000
from a custodian and offered to nominate a custodian for a
$2,500 service award if he would share it), hired family
members, and practiced favoritism (in parking privileges and
allowing on-the-job sleeping).
(Id. at pp. 916, 925.)
concluded the case did not involve a public issue.
(Id. at p.
The union’s statements concerned the supervision of a
staff of only eight custodians, by an individual who had
previously received no public attention.
public policy might favor criticism of unlawful workplace
activity, such activity below some threshold level of
significance is not an issue of public interest.
Rivero, supra, 105 Cal.App.4th 913, said case law did not
define the precise boundaries of “public issue,” but in each of
the cases “the subject statements either concerned a person or
entity in the public eye [citations], conduct that could
directly affect a large number of people beyond the direct
participants [citations] or a topic of widespread public
interest [citing the child molestation topic in M.G., supra, 89
(Id. at p. 924.)
In the case before us, the protection of children passes
the threshold level of significance and, as indicated, Rivero,
supra, 105 Cal.App.4th 913, cited the M.G. child molestation
issue as a case of widespread public interest.
Moreover, the same court that decided Rivero, supra, 105
Cal.App.4th 913, later said that “in cases where the issue is
not of interest to the public at large, but rather to a limited,
but definable portion of the public (a private group,
organization, or community), the constitutionally protected
activity must, at a minimum, occur in the context of an ongoing
controversy, dispute, or discussion, such that it warrants
protection by a statute that embodies the public policy of
encouraging participation in matters of public significance.”
(Du Charme v. International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers
(2003) 110 Cal.App.4th 107, 119 (Du Charme).)
“This rule is
consistent with the holding and result in Rivero, because
although the union there asserted that its statements were made
in the context of a major labor dispute and/or organizing drive,
we [the First Appellate District] found no support in the record
for that assertion.”
(Du Charme, supra, 110 Cal.App.4th at p.
119, fn. 2 [statement posted on union’s website that union local
manager had been removed for financial mismanagement, was not
connected to any discussion, debate, or controversy in which
union members might participate, and therefore was not entitled
to section 425.16 protection].)
Here, we have seen that plaintiffs’ actions gave rise to an
ongoing discussion about protection of children, which warrants
protection by a statute that embodies the public policy of
encouraging participation in matters of public significance.
Plaintiffs argue there was no ongoing
controversy/dispute/discussion, and no need for ongoing
discussion, because they resigned from the youth program and
from Church membership, and they were led to believe their
resignation would close the subject.
However, plaintiffs did not have the power to foreclose
discussion by resigning.
Grounds for discussion arose when the
girl’s parents found the numerous communications from George
Terry to the girl, raising the question whether he might have
made similar communications to other members of the youth group.
Indeed, one of plaintiffs’ own declarants attested she
“routinely received almost identical emails from Mr. Terry”
(which she viewed as innocent).
Although the resignation
eliminated the need for a church trial, plaintiffs’ resignation
and departure from the Church did not eliminate parents’
interest in determining whether their own children may have been
the subject of any inappropriate contact by plaintiffs while
plaintiffs were involved with the youth group.
plaintiffs’ resignation did not eliminate the Church community
interest in discussing ways in which the Church could keep
predators out of leadership positions and away from Church
Plaintiffs’ own evidence and appellate brief acknowledge a
legitimate ongoing discussion.
Thus, plaintiffs’ presentation
of the facts of the case states that, at the February 22, 2004,
meetings for Church members and non-member parents of the
Church’s youth members, some of the defendants “implied that
[plaintiff] GEORGE TERRY was a sexual predator when they asked
that all those present to [sic] rethink every interaction they
have had with [plaintiffs] to determine whether [plaintiffs] may
also have been having an inappropriate relationship with any of
their children or children they know.”
asserted in their opening brief on appeal that one defendant
“engaged in a discussion with those present at that meeting
about ways in which [the Church] could keep sexual predators out
of leadership positions and away from Church youth. . . . The
suggestions ranged from keeping [plaintiffs] away from all
children associated with [the Church], to obtaining a
restraining order against [plaintiffs], to background checks, to
finger printing . . . .”
As support for these factual
assertions, plaintiffs’ opening brief cites the declaration of
Adam Gromis, who was present at the meetings.
declaration was submitted to the trial court by plaintiffs
Thus, plaintiffs’ own evidence showed a legitimate ongoing
The contents of the ongoing discussion were clearly
matters encouraging participation in matters of public
(Du Charme, supra, 110 Cal.App.4th at p. 119.)
We conclude the complaint arose from protected activity
under section 425.16.
Probability of Plaintiffs’ Prevailing on the Merits
Having concluded section 425.16 applies to this lawsuit,
our next step is to determine whether plaintiffs have
demonstrated a probability of prevailing on the complaint.
(Navellier, supra, 29 Cal.4th at pp. 88-89.)
they have not.
We shall conclude
Plaintiffs do not show any libel or slander,
because the statements of which they complain did not declare or
imply a provably false assertion of fact.
All claims (libel,
slander, and infliction of emotional distress) additionally fail
because they were based on privileged communications among
interested persons (Civ. Code, § 47, subd. (c)).
In determining whether plaintiffs will probably prevail on
the merits, we consider the pleadings and evidentiary
submissions of both sides, but we do not weigh credibility or
comparative strength of the evidence.
(Kashian v. Harriman
(2002) 98 Cal.App.4th 892, 906.)
As defendants observe, the complaint alleged their
statements were defamatory on their face, but plaintiffs changed
their theory in the trial court and argued the implication of
the statements was defamatory.
Thus, the pleading alleged the report was “libelous on its
face” and “state[d] that Mr. Terry is a sexual predator who had
been engaged in an inappropriate sexual relationship” with the
girl, and “Ms. Terry was involved in the inappropriate
relationship . . . .”
The allegations are clearly wrong, since
the report said nothing about any sexual relationship.
For purposes of this appeal, we shall consider plaintiffs’
arguments that the implication of defendants’ statements was
“Libel is a false and unprivileged publication by writing,
. . . which exposes any person to hatred, contempt, ridicule, or
obloquy, or which causes him to be shunned or avoided, or which
has a tendency to injure him in his occupation.”
“Slander is a false and unprivileged publication, orally
uttered, . . . which:
[¶] 1. Charges any person with crime
. . . [or] [¶] 3. Tends directly to injure him in respect to his
office, profession, trade or business, either by imputing to him
general disqualification in those respects which the office or
other occupation peculiarly requires . . . .”
(Civ. Code, §
Statements of fact are actionable as defamation, while
opinions generally are not.
(Franklin v. Dynamic Details, Inc.
(2004) 116 Cal.App.4th 375, 384-385.)
However, opinions may be
actionable if they imply an assertion of objective fact.
at p. 385.)
“[T]he dispositive question is whether a reasonable
fact finder could conclude the published statement declares or
implies a provably false assertion of fact.”
This is a
question of law for the court to decide based on the totality of
circumstances, unless the statement is susceptible of both an
innocent and a libelous meaning.
An opinion may be
actionable as defamation “if it implies the allegation of
undisclosed defamatory facts as the basis for the opinion.
‘Even if the speaker states the facts upon which he bases his
opinion, if those facts are either incorrect or incomplete, or
if his assessment of them is erroneous, the statement may still
imply a false assertion of fact.
Simply couching such
statements in terms of opinion does not dispel these
implications . . . .’”
(Wilbanks v. Wolk, supra, 121
Cal.App.4th 883, 902-903.)
We shall see there is no evidence of a false or
unprivileged communication, and nothing suggests the opinions in
the report were based on undisclosed falsehoods.
complaint alleged defendants falsely accused plaintiffs of a
sexual relationship, on appeal plaintiffs try to blur the focus,
arguing defendants accused plaintiffs of an inappropriate or
Plaintiffs fail to show that an accusation
of an inappropriate relationship would be false.
claim that the police found “no inappropriate relationship
existed” is wrong.
Plaintiffs fail to show any express or
implied accusation of a sexual relationship.
We shall first address the report, then the oral statements
allegedly made by defendants.4
Finally, we shall address the
defense of privilege for communications among interested
The complaint was based primarily on a false allegation
that the report accused George Terry of having a sexual
4 Plaintiffs do not develop any analysis about liability of these
defendants for the flier sent by an anonymous source, which bore
George Terry’s name and address and stated in part: “BE
CAREFUL--WARN YOUR DAUGHTERS ABOUT HIM! [¶] Presbyterian Church
youth group leader George Terry, a married man in his 30’s,
resigned in mid-February rather than face a church trial over
charges of misconduct involving a minor in the Davis Community
Church youth group. [¶] A complaint by parents triggered an
internal church investigation, which has been kept under wraps.
[¶] Davis police are also investigating. [¶] Over 80 pages of
incriminating computer records confirm that Terry was pursuing
the girl. He sent frequent e-mails proclaiming his love for
her, how much she meant to him, how he longed to be with her, to
kiss her, to hold her, and how much time he spent thinking about
her. Terry sought increasing degrees of secret physical contact
with this girl. [¶] Terry has developed friendships with other
young girls in the past. Parents would be wise to warn their
daughters about him.”
relationship with the girl.
The report itself shows no such
accusation of a sexual relationship was made.
report quoted George Terry’s own words to the girl, said Wendy
Terry was aware of the correspondence, and opined the
relationship was inappropriate.
Plaintiffs do not dispute that George Terry wrote the emails and other correspondence to the girl, or that Wendy Terry
was aware of them.
Truth is a complete defense to defamation.
(Campanelli v. Regents of University of California (1996) 44
Cal.App.4th 572, 581-582; see also, The Garment Workers Center
v. Superior Court (2004) 117 Cal.App.4th 1156, 1162-1163 [when
plaintiffs cannot negate the defense of truth with admissible
evidence, dismissal is compelled].)
Plaintiffs submitted declarations from two persons who
interpreted the report as implying a sexual relationship.
However, even assuming for the sake of argument that the report
might be viewed as implying an opinion that the relationship was
sexual, such implied opinion would not be actionable, because
there was no implication of any undisclosed defamatory facts as
the basis for such an opinion.
(Wilbanks v. Wolk, supra, 121
Cal.App.4th at pp. 902-903.)
Certainly, George Terry’s own words to the girl were
manifestly inappropriate and raise the question whether he is a
As we have indicated, his words opened the
door for the Church’s investigation and discussion about
protecting children from sexual predators.
implication of a sexual relationship arose from George Terry’s
own words (which he admitted he wrote), not from any false
statements or accusations by defendants.
Plaintiffs make nonsensical arguments.
plaintiffs cite the report that George Terry and the girl were
involved in a “trajectory of increasing physical contact, from
hugs to back rubs to holding hands with George’s hand on the
complainants’ daughter’s leg under a blanket.”
complain “trajectory” was supported only by a single piece of
evidence (which we note was George Terry’s own correspondence in
which he said how much he liked hugging the girl, rubbing her
back, holding hands, and resting his hand on her leg).
inconceivable to us how plaintiffs think this helps their case.
They do not deny that George Terry wrote these words to the
To the extent plaintiffs are complaining that “trajectory
of increasing physical contact” suggests there must be separate
events, they fail to explain how this point would provide any
basis for reversal.
Plaintiffs submitted declarations saying George Terry’s
words were taken out of context without the opportunity for him
to explain himself.
However, plaintiffs did not offer any
explanation or any different context.
Regarding plaintiffs’ allegation that the report accused
them of dishonesty, the report did say plaintiffs showed
deception by inviting youths to e-mail them despite promising
defendants to cease all contact with the youths.
plaintiffs cite no evidence of any falsehood by defendants.
Plaintiffs claim that, apart from the report, there were
numerous defamatory oral statements made by defendants, as
Plaintiffs cite the declaration of a volunteer youth
leader, who said defendant Tobin “told me that Mr. Terry was
‘delusional’ because he honestly did not believe he had
‘romantic feelings’ for the Girl.
[Tobin] was convinced that
Mr. Terry did have romantic feelings for the Girl.”
this declaration revealed nothing more than nonactionable
The complaint alleged defendant Tobin called plaintiffs
Plaintiffs submitted a declaration from a volunteer
youth leader, who said defendant Tobin said plaintiffs lied to
her about the alleged inappropriate relationship they had with
However, George Terry admitted lying.
wrote to the girl, “i feel dishonest. . .like i’m hiding
something (which i know i am).”
He asked the girl to help him
act “normal” around her to keep the pastor from ruining it for
Wendy Terry’s declaration did not refute defendants’
evidence that she admitted she knew about George’s
A Church official announced during Sunday morning
service on February 22, 2004, that adult volunteers were needed
to make the youth group “a safe place again.”
This is not
Two volunteer youth leaders attested defendant
Lommasson said plaintiffs needed “more than spiritual
counseling,” which the declarants interpreted to mean
professional counseling due to a sexual relationship.
Defendants asked parents to rethink their interactions
According to plaintiffs, this conduct implied
George Terry was a sexual predator.
This is not actionable.
Two declarants said in identical language that
defendant DeLappe at the February 2004 meetings “engaged in a
discussion with those present about ways in which the Church
could keep sexual predators out of leadership positions and away
from Church youth.
The suggestions ranged from keeping Mr. &
Ms. Terry away from all children associated with the Church, to
obtaining a restraining order against Mr. & Ms. Terry, to
background checks, to finger printing, to making the current
issue ‘public’ . . . .”
Even liberally construing the
declarations as attributing to DeLappe the term “sexual
predator,” in context this would be nothing more than an
opinion, with no indication that it was based upon undisclosed
defamatory facts rather than being based upon George Terry’s own
words to the girl.
Defendant DeLapp informed parents that the Davis Police
Department was investigating, which two declarants interpreted
as implying that there was a sexual relationship.
police were investigating, and therefore the statement was true
and not actionable.
The declarants’ interpretation did not
render the statement actionable.
Defendant Albertson expressed anger that the most
damning quotes from George Terry’s correspondence to the girl
had been left out of the report, and he could not believe some
of the correspondence he saw.
Plaintiffs do not cite any
evidence to refute the factual statement that more damning
quotes were left out of the report.
George Terry submitted a
declaration that merely stated the e-mails cited in the report
“were taken out of context and, while they can be
misinterpreted, do not prove that such a [sexual] relationship
Moreover, the Confidential Report does not set forth
my side of the story or my explanation about any of these
George Terry did not offer any explanation or show how
the e-mails were taken out of context.
One of the parents referred to plaintiffs as a “deviant
couple,” like “errant priests,” and said the public should be
The evidence does not identify this person as a
defendant, and plaintiffs present no legal analysis making
defendants liable for his/her remarks (which in any event would
appear to be nonactionable opinion).
Plaintiffs claim defendants DeLapp and Albertson knew
and admitted that their publication of the report constituted
defamation, but they did it even though their attorneys
expressly advised against it.
liability is not well taken.
This supposed admission of
Plaintiffs cite declarants who
said a Church representative said the Church’s lawyers advised
the Church not to disclose the report to anyone, but the
decision to disclose was made as a matter of faith.5
declarant said the Church decided to disclose, regardless of
whose lives might be ruined in the process.
This appears to be
editorial comment by the declarant rather than a quote from a
The evidence fails to show the reason for the
attorneys’ advice was defamatory content (as opposed to, e.g.,
avoidance of the hassle of defending against meritless
lawsuits), or that the defendants were advised the report
5 Leslie Kuss, mother of a youth group member, attested in a
declaration: “I heard a Church representative specifically
state at that [February 22] meeting that the Church’s lawyers
have advised the Church not to disclose the Confidential Report
to anyone.” Adam Gromis, volunteer youth leader, attested:
“Defendants DeLappe and Albertson also informed those present at
both meetings that the Presbytery’s [sic] lawyers have advised
the Church not to disclose the Confidential Report to anyone.
But that the Church chose to do so anyway, regardless of whose
lives might be ruined in the process. Both Defendants said the
decision to disclose the Confidential Report was ‘a matter of
faith.’ I understood their statement to imply that they were
determined to inform the parents of the Church’s youth of the
threat they erroneously believed Mr. & Mrs. Terry represented to
their children, to a level of religious conviction.” Katy
Davidow, volunteer youth leader, attested: “Defendants DeLappe
and Albertson also informed those present at that meeting that
the Church’s lawyers have advised the Church not to disclose the
Report to anyone. But that the Church chose to do so anyway,
regardless of whose lives might be ruined in the process.”
We conclude plaintiffs fail to show any actionable
defamation in the report or verbal statements.
Even if we are mistaken, and plaintiffs have shown one or
more defamatory statements, those statements are privileged.
Civil Code section 47 provides:
or broadcast is one made:
“A privileged publication
[¶] . . . [¶] (c) In a communication,
without malice, to a person interested therein, (1) by one who
is also interested, or (2) by one who stands in such a relation
to the person interested as to afford a reasonable ground for
supposing the motive for the communication to be innocent, or
(3) who is requested by the person interested to give the
This privilege applies to communications between
church members on church matters.
“Ordinarily, the common
interest of the members of a church in church matters is
sufficient to give rise to a qualified privilege to
communications between members on subjects relating to the
(Brewer v. Second Baptist Church (1948) 32
Cal.2d 791, 796-797.)
Plaintiffs argue the privilege does not apply, because not
all the persons at the meetings were Church members.
Civil Code section 47, subdivision (c), is not limited to church
Moreover, the non-Church-members at the meetings were
parents of children who were Church youth group members.
The privilege does not arise if the communication is made
with malice, i.e., with a state of mind arising from hatred or
ill-will, evidencing a willingness to vex, annoy, or injure the
(Civ. Code, § 47; Kashian v. Harriman, supra, 98
Cal.App.4th at p. 915.)
Under the “privilege” heading of their opening brief on
appeal, plaintiffs do not present any argument that the
privilege was defeated by malice in this case.
brief argues malice only with respect to punitive damages.
Plaintiffs’ reply brief argues facts demonstrate the privilege
was lost due to malice.
We do not consider new factual
arguments presented for the first time in a reply brief.
(Neighbours v. Buzz Oates Enterprises (1990) 217 Cal.App.3d 325,
335, fn. 8.)
We have reviewed the factual arguments about
malice presented in the opening brief (regarding punitive
damages) and conclude they fail to defeat the privilege.
plaintiffs say Pastor Tobin first told them she did not see any
reason to press charges, she believed George Terry did not have
romantic feelings for the girl, she thought Wendy Terry should
resign her position to help protect the girl from scorn, and she
thought a vague letter of resignation/withdrawal would stop the
After plaintiffs wrote the letter, Tobin
told them the ordeal was over.
Wendy Terry attested:
discovered that the Pastor had lied to me and that the Church
continued to take action regarding the allegations.
Pastor literally laughed at my suggestion that the [report] not
be published when we spoke on February 19, 2004.”
say Tobin described herself as very angry in an e-mail she sent
However, none of this shows malice.
“I need to let you two know that the investigating
committee has written a report of their findings and shared that
The situation will not go to trial, of course,
because you have already resigned, etc.
But after consulting
with attorneys, the committee believed that the board needed to
The board, in turn, believed that they needed to
inform parents of what their concerns are so that parents can
work to help with the healing process as they speak with their
children. . . . [¶] . . . [¶] Some people want to know if other
youth might have been involved or hurt.
I do not believe that is the case.
I am assuring them that
[¶] I also continue to tell
people how much I appreciated your ministry with our youth and
how much I loved and continue to love you both.
does not, in my mind, erase all the good you have done for and
with the youth over the years.
[¶] . . . [¶] I am assuming that
you are very angry with me at this point.
I, too, am very angry.
I am sorry that you
But even through the anger
(and my grief, which is also very real) I do hope that
reconciliation will be possible in the future.”
None of this shows malice.
Nor is malice shown by plaintiffs’ unsupported assertion
that the report was inaccurate.
They say it took George Terry’s
correspondence out of context and did not present his side of
However, they do not provide any context or
explanation to show the report was inaccurate.
Plaintiffs complain one of the authors of the report (a
psychologist) did not get a chance to express his full opinion,
which was that George Terry’s intentions were good, not romantic
Wendy Terry attested the psychologist said the
parents on the investigatory committee were acting out of fear,
and he was pressured by the Church to change his professional
opinion to say George Terry was delusional and needed therapy,
but he refused to do so.
However, this is not legally
sufficient to show malice, because it attributes defendants’
conduct to fear, not malice.
Moreover, the psychologist himself
submitted a declaration to the trial court, attesting:
believe that the report is complete and accurate.
I do not
believe that anything else needs to be added to the report in
order to give an [sic] fair understanding of the circumstances
of the Terrys’ misconduct in leading the church youth group.
have no objections to any part of the report.
I would not have
signed the report if I had objections to the completeness or
accuracy of the report.”
Plaintiffs repeat their claim, which we have already
rejected, that defendants knew the report was defamatory because
their attorney advised against disclosure.
We conclude defendants’ communications were privileged
under Civil Code section 47, subdivision (c).
We need not
discuss defendants’ argument that the clergyman-penitent
privilege (Evid. Code, § 1030) also applies.
Plaintiffs note defendants have ignored the counts for
negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
Nevertheless, “California permits no cause of action based upon
the defamatory nature of a communication which is itself
privileged under the defamation laws.”
(Brody v. Montalbano
(1978) 87 Cal.App.3d 725, 738-739.)
We conclude plaintiffs were not likely to prevail on the
Therefore, the trial court properly granted defendants’
section 425.16 motion to strike the complaint.
Attorney’s Fee Award
Plaintiffs argue that, if the ruling on the motion to
strike is reversed, then the attorney’s fee award must also be
However, we are upholding the ruling on the motion to
Plaintiffs offer no other ground to reverse the
attorney’s fee award.
We disregard their belated suggestion in
their reply brief, in response to the cross-appeal, that the
amount awarded was too high.
Defendants cross-appeal from the amount of the attorney’s
fee award, arguing the trial court wrongly excluded several
categories of attorney’s fees.
Defendants also request a
fee/cost award for handling this appeal, in an amount to be
determined by the trial court.
We shall affirm the award and
order appellate fees.
Section 425.16, subdivision (c), provides that “a
prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be
entitled to recover his or her attorney’s fees and costs.”
trial court has discretion to determine reasonableness of the
(Wilkerson v. Sullivan (2002) 99 Cal.App.4th
Defendants say they incurred over $38,000 in attorney’s
They cite various pages of the transcript, none of which
contains that number or any numbers adding up to that amount.
Plaintiffs opposed the motion for attorney’s fees, arguing
in part that defense counsel spent too much time on the antiSLAPP motion and improperly sought an award for all fees
incurred in the litigation, whereas defendants were only
entitled to fees related to the anti-SLAPP matter.
Morehouse, Inc. v. Chronicle Publishing Co. (1995) 39
Cal.App.4th 1379, 1383 (Lafayette).)
The trial court, on its own motion, instructed plaintiffs
to submit an itemized summary of fees and costs incurred in
opposing the section 425.16 motion.
Defendants suggest plaintiffs’ attorney claimed 64.1 hours.
However, plaintiffs’ attorney stated he spent 41.5 hours in
opposing the anti-SLAPP motion.
He took the case on a
contingency fee basis but would have charged an hourly rate of
$200 (which would total $8,300).
The trial court awarded $10,500 to defendants.
Defendants complain the trial court omitted attorney’s fees
for the time needed to communicate with clients and witnesses,
investigate the factual circumstances, formulate the Church’s
legal defenses, and file the motion for fees/costs after winning
the anti-SLAPP motion.
However, defendants fail to prove their
They provide no factual analysis and no evidence
concerning any specific billings.
For example, they claim the
trial court categorically excluded all time spent before June
2004, even though it included five weeks in which the anti-SLAPP
motion was being prepared.
However, they offer no evidence that
the trial court categorically excluded all pre-June time spent
on the anti-SLAPP motion.
They merely cite one page of billing
showing legal research on section 425.16 in March and April.
They do not show the trial court excluded it or why.
appear to base their argument on an assumption that, because the
trial court asked for plaintiffs’ billings in opposing the antiSLAPP motion, and because plaintiffs’ billing started in June
2004, the trial court must have excluded any billing by defense
counsel before June.
We will not make that assumption.
Defendants complain the trial court excluded attorney’s
fees incurred in preparing the answer to the complaint and the
opposition to plaintiffs ex parte motion seeking a temporary
injunction silencing defendants.
Defendants argue these
preparations later served as the foundation for the anti-SLAPP
However, defendants cite no authority requiring the
trial court to award such fees under section 425.16.
inapposite authority, e.g., that an attorney’s fee provision
that authorized fees reasonably expended “on the litigation”
included preliminary work such as drafting the initial pleading
and developing the theory of the case (Webb v. Dyer County Board
of Education (1985) 471 U.S. 234, 243 [85 L.Ed.2d 233]); that a
trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to require
apportionment of hours between claims for which fees were
compensable and interrelated claims for which fees were not
compensable but that were impossible to separate (Akins v.
Enterprise Rent-A-Car Co. (2000) 79 Cal.App.4th 1127, 1133); and
that when a statute does not limit fees, the attorney can
anticipate compensation for every hour spent litigating a claim
“against even the most polemical opponent.”
(Weeks v. Baker &
McKenzie (1998) 63 Cal.App.4th 1128, 1175-1176.)
We need not
address the new argument, raised for the first time in the reply
brief on the cross-appeal, that the 1997 addition of the words
“this section shall be construed broadly” to section 425.16,
subdivision (a), abrogated the holding of Lafayette, supra, 39
Cal.App.4th at page 1383, that section 425.16, subdivision (c),
allows fees only for the section 425.16 motion, not for the
We note the 1997 amendment changed other parts of
section 425.16, but made no change regarding attorney’s fees.
(Stats. 1997, ch. 271, § 1.)
Defendants argue this was a complex case and it would be
impossible to present a well-prepared anti-SLAPP motion and
request for fees in only 46 hours.
They list activities but do
not present numbers in their appellate brief to show how much
those activities cost in attorney’s fees.
They cite their own
attorney’s declaration opining the fees are reasonable.
they do not do is show abuse of discretion by the trial court.
That attorneys in other cases won more does not establish abuse
of discretion in this case.
Defendants argue they could have claimed more than six
times the fees they sought, by having each of the six defendants
get his/her/its own lawyer.
The argument is not well taken.
We conclude defendants have failed to meet their burden to
show grounds to increase the amount of attorney’s fees awarded
by the trial court.
In the conclusion of their brief, defendants request they
be awarded fees and costs for appellate representation in this
appeal, in an amount to be determined by the trial court under
Defendants are entitled to attorney’s fees for
defending against the appeal.
(Dove Audio, Inc. v. Rosenfeld,
Meyer & Susman (1996) 47 Cal.App.4th 777.)
They cite no
authority allowing fees for prosecuting their unsuccessful
We shall remand to the trial court for
determination of the amount for defending against the appeal.
The judgment and attorney’s fee award are affirmed.
cross-appeal is denied.
Defendants shall recover their costs
and reasonable attorney’s fees for defending against the appeal
(Cal. Rules of Court, rule 27; § 425.16), the amount of which
shall be determined by the trial court.