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Court of Appeal of California, Fourth Appellate District, Division Three
January 27, 2022, Opinion Filed
GOETHALS, J.—Lawyers argue for a living. Some do more than argue. They lace their settlement demands with threats. When does such activity cross the line and become professional misconduct? That is the fundamental question presented in this case.
Falcon Brands, Inc., and Coastal Harvest II, LLC (collectively Falcon), appeal here from an order granting respondent's special motion to strike both causes of action in Falcon's cross-complaint pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the anti-SLAPP law). The cross-complaint alleges extortion and intentional interference with a contract against Attorney Amy Mousavi and her law firm, Mousavi & Lee, LLP (collectively Mousavi). Falcon argues Mousavi's e-mail settlement demands, described in detail below, which are the focus of Falcon's cross-complaint, [**2] were not entitled to protection under the anti-SLAPP law because they constituted illegal attempts to force Falcon into settling the underlying matter. The trial court rejected this argument and granted Mousavi's anti-SLAPP motion.
We reverse as to the first cause of action for extortion because we conclude Mousavi's e-mail settlement demands, when considered in context, were not protected speech in light of the Supreme Court's ruling in Flatley v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299 [46 Cal. Rptr. 3d 606, 139 P.3d 2] (Flatley). Rather, Mousavi's escalating series of threats ultimately transformed what had been legitimate demands into something else: extortion. We therefore conclude Falcon's first cause of action is not protected by the anti-SLAPP law as a result of the well-established “Flatley rule.”
We affirm as to the second cause of action, intentional interference with a contract. That cause of action arises out of Mousavi's actual revelation of damaging information about Falcon to Falcon's merger partner. Falcon does not contend the revelations were illegal as a matter of law. The revelations were made in furtherance of Mousavi's contemplated litigation. The trial court correctly concluded the revelations were protected by the litigation privilege. Consequently, they are [**3] also protected by the anti-SLAPP statute.
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74 Cal. App. 5th 506 *; 2022 Cal. App. LEXIS 69 **; 2022 WL 246851
FALCON BRANDS, INC., et. al., Cross-complainants and Appellants, v. MOUSAVI & LEE, LLP, et. al., Cross-defendants and Respondents.
Prior History: [**1] Appeal from an order of the Superior Court of Orange County, No. 30-2020-01128818, Craig Griffin, Judge.
Disposition: Affirmed in part, reversed in part.
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Constitutional Law, Fundamental Freedoms, Freedom of Speech, Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, Bill of Rights, Freedom to Petition, Civil Procedure, Appeals, Standards of Review, De Novo Review, Governments, Legislation, Interpretation, Evidence, Burdens of Proof, Allocation, Scope, Criminal Law & Procedure, Racketeering, Extortion, Elements, Legal Ethics, Professional Conduct, Opposing Counsel & Parties