Law Religion Culture Review

Exploring the intersections of law, religion and culture. Copyright by Richard J. Radcliffe. All rights reserved.

Saturday, February 12, 2005

A Case of Law and Religion.

I'll admit at the outset that this post reaches for a law and religion intersection in a case decided February 4, 2005. (Read it here.) Work with me though; the payoff is there.

Richard E. Thomas owns many rental properties in California. He also attends church, where he is a deacon. One of his former tenants picketed his home and his church. Mr. Thomas did not appreciate the attention, and he sued. The lawsuit asserted that the former tenant, John Quintero (among others) harassed him and caused him "extreme embarrassment and severe emotional distress".

Defendant Quintero brought a special motion to strike under California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute. In short, this statute generally empowers courts to stop lawsuits that are designed to prevent free speech or government petitioning activities.
The trial court denied the motion to strike. Then, another superior court judge denied Plaintiff Thomas' petition for an injunction brought under Code of Civil Procedure Section 527.6 (a court order prohibiting harassment).

Quintero appealed the rejection of his motion to strike. He won. The court of appeal held that the anti-SLAPP law did apply to Quintero's action. Accordingly, the appellate court directed the trial court to enter an order granting the special motion to strike and consider an award of attorneys' fees to Quintero.

In sum, the court of appeal ruled that the anti-SLAPP law applies to Section 527.6 actions. Even though no court had previously addressed the issue, the opinion explained that the anti-SLAPP law applies to "petitions". Since some types of cases are exempted from the anti-SLAPP law, and anti-harassment suits are not listed among those, "that old saw of statutory construction, 'expressio unius est exclusion alterius'", applied, according to the appellate court. This maxim of interpretation provides that if exemptions are specified in a statute, additional exemptions will not be inferred absent clear legislative intent.

Further, applying the anti-SLAPP law to cases brought under the civil harassment procedure comports with Section 527.6's goals of protecting against harassment and providing an expedited remedy, the court of appeal reasoned.

Turning to the facts, the appellate court concluded that the picketing, which involved distribution of flyers explaining the picketers' side of their disputes with the landlord, constituted First Amendment-protected activity in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest. The picketers made "a genuine effort to engage the members of Thomas's congregation in discussing and finding a solution to the disputes", according to the Thomas court.

Because Thomas's suit implicated constitutional rights of Defendant Quintero, the burden was Plaintiff Thomas to show a likelihood of prevailing on the merits (under the anti-SLAPP statute). The appellate court concluded that no such showing was made because the evidence did not show that Quintero had engaged in or threatened violence, or had engaged in a course of unlawful conduct.

The case especially interests me because it demonstrates one of the hottest areas of California law now: the anti-SLAPP statute. In turn, the anti-SLAPP law implicates Constitutional protections, such as First Amendment freedoms. On top of all of that, this case allows us to revisit the topic of statutory interpretation covered in numerous posts in the series, "It's a Matter of Interpretation".

(Hat Tip: Metropolitan News-Enterprise and K. Ofgang.)