New Court of Appeal Opinion Regarding Anti-SLAPP Timing

Recently, the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Division Three (Santa Ana) certified a new case for publication that clarified the effect of amended complaints on the deadline to file an anti-SLAPP motion to strike. In Newport Harbor Ventures, LLC v. Morris Cerullo World Evangelism et al., (Nov. 30, 2016, G052660) __Cal.App.5th__, the court analyzed whether an amended complaint reopens the 60-day anti-SLAPP filing window. (Slip opn., p. 2.) The court held that the window is only reopened as to newly pleaded causes of action. (Id. at p. 10.)

In July 2013, plaintiffs filed a complaint against defendants for breach of contract and intentional tort, alleging that defendants settled an underlying action fraudulently. (Slip opn., p. 6.) Plaintiffs subsequently filed three amended complaints in December 2013, March 2014, and June 2015. (Ibid.) The Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”) contained four causes of action: (1) breach of contract, (2) breach of implied covenant of good faith, (3) quantum meruit, and (4) promissory estoppel. (Id. at pp. 5-7.) The first two causes of action appeared in earlier complaints, but plaintiffs added the last two causes of action to the TAC. (Ibid.) In response, defendants moved to strike pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, arguing that each of the four causes of action arose from protected activity. However, the motion was timely only with respect to the TAC. (Id. at pp. 6-7.) Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing that because defendants did not file within 60 days of the initial, first, or second amended complaints, the motion was untimely. (Id. at p. 7.) The trial court agreed and denied defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion. Defendants appealed. (Ibid.)

The Court of Appeal held that an amended complaint reopens the 60-day period only for newly pleaded causes of action. (Slip opn., p. 10.) The court reasoned that the anti-SLAPP statute’s purpose of early termination of claims would not be served by automatically reopening the 60-day filing window for every amended complaint. On the other hand, closing the window after the initial complaint would allow plaintiffs to avoid the anti-SLAPP statute by including all allegations regarding protected conduct in amended complaints. (Ibid.)

In this case, the court held that it was improper to dismiss defendants’ entire anti-SLAPP motion for untimeliness. (Slip opn., p. 14.) The motion was properly dismissed as to the first two causes of action, which had been alleged in previous complaints. (Id. at pp. 12-13.) However, the motion was timely as to the causes of action newly added in the TAC (quantum meruit and promissory estoppel). (Id. at pp. 13-14.) Ultimately, the court affirmed dismissal of the entire anti-SLAPP motion, but only after finding that plaintiffs established a likelihood of success on the merits of both newly added causes of action. (Id. at p. 21.)

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