Friday, August 23, 2013

No Jurisdiction, No Fees

Barry v. State Bar, No. B242054 (D2d2 Aug. 21, 2013) 

The superior court has no authority to award fees to a defendant who, in litigating an anti-SLAPP motion, establishes that there is no likelihood of success because the trial court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claim.

Plaintiff, an attorney, petitioned the Supreme Court to revoke a stipulation she had previously entered with the State Bar’s Office of Chief Trial Counsel to resolve two disciplinary matters. When the Supreme Court denied the petition, she sued the State Bar in superior court, demanding the same relief. The State Bar filed an anti-SLAPP motion, arguing that (a) the causes of action arose from protected activity and (b) there was no probability of success because the superior courts do not have subject matter jurisdiction over attorney discipline. The trial court agreed, granted the motion, and awarded the State Bar its fees under Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16(c). Plaintiff appealed.

The court of appeal agreed that the superior court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, because a 1951 amendment to the State Bar Act gave the Supreme Court plenary authority over attorney discipline, with the State Bar acting as its administrative arm. But that said, absent any subject matter jurisdiction, the trial court had no power at all to hear the case, which included any jurisdiction to hear adjudicate the merits of the anti-SLAPP motion. Thus, the court had no jurisdiction to award any attorneys’ fees under §425.16(c).

Dismissal affirmed, fee award reversed.

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