Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Another Fine Use of Appellate Resources

Schwarzburd v. Kensington Police Protection & Cmty. Svcs. Dist. Bd., No. A139630 (D1d1 Apr. 30, 2014)

The underlying case is a writ proceeding against a NorCal Community Services District and three of its board members brought by two other board members who dissented from the board’s 3-2 vote to extend a meeting past 10 o’clock at night. They also challenged a subsequent 3-2 vote to approve a salary increase to the District’s police chief.  All of the defendants filed a SLAPP motion, which the trial court denied.

The court first holds—errrr, decides? I'm not going to be able to keep that up—that the public interest exception to the anti-SLAPP statute in Code of Civil Procedure § 425.17 does not apply because challenging an extension of a public meeting “does not operate to enforce an important right affecting the public interest.” Indeed, given that the result is cutting off debate, it is anathema to it. Further, at least as to the individual board member defendants, private enforcement is not necessary because the petitioners have recourse against the board itself.

Turning to the anti-SLAPP analysis, the court holds that voting by legislative officers in public meetings is, in fact, protected activity under § 425.16(e)(2) and (4). Thus, the trial court erred in its determination that the case against the three board members did not arise from protected activity. As to the board itself, however, the trial court was correct. The anti-SLAPP statute does not apply to the official acts of public entities themselves. But as to the merits of the individuals claims, there were none, so the motion should have been granted.

Reversed in part.

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