Contreras v. DowlingAnnotate this Case
Contreras sued her landlords (Butterworth) and the Butterworths’ former attorneys based on their allegedly illegal entries into Contreras’s apartment. After attorney Dowling began representing the Butterworths, Contreras named him as a defendant. The trial court denied Dowling’s special motion to strike, ruling that Contreras’s action did not arise out of protected activity because she sought to hold him liable not for his activities as an attorney, but only for the underlying wrongful conduct of the Butterworths. Relying on opinions in the two prior appeals of the case, the court found Contreras had established a probability of prevailing on the merits. Finding Dowling’s motion frivolous, the granted Contreras’s motion for sanctions. The court of appeal reversed. Contreras’s claim against Dowling arises out of protected activity because the only actions Dowling himself is alleged to have taken are communicative acts by an attorney representing clients in litigation. Such acts are protected by Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. Bare allegations of aiding and abetting or conspiracy do not suffice to remove such acts from the statute's protection. Contreras cannot demonstrate a probability of prevailing on the merits because Dowling’s communicative acts are within the scope of the litigation privilege codified in Civil Code section 47(b).