Graham-Sult v. Clainos

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: First Amendment
  • Date Filed: 12-27-2013
  • Case #: 11-16779
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Smith for the Court; Circuit Judges Goodwin and O’Scannlain
  • Full Text Opinion

California’s anti-SLAPP statute applies to actions involving “written or oral statement[s] or writing[s] made in connection” to probate court.

Bill Graham ("Graham") owned Bill Graham Enterprises, Inc ("BGE"). After his death, Nicholas Clainos ("Clainos") was named the executor of Graham’s estate. Clainos concluded that any intellectual property registered to Graham belong to BGE, which was sold. Graham’s sons concluded that Graham owned some of the intellectual property sold as a part of BGE. They sued Clainos over the distribution of the intellectual property and claimed causes of action for fraud, concealment, breach of fiduciary duty, deceit, promissory estoppel, conversion and unjust enrichment. Clainos was granted “a special motion to strike under California’s anti-SLAPP statute.” The Ninth Circuit held that the anti-SLAPP statute authorized “defendants to file a ‘special motion to strike’ any ‘cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution.’” Included in the statute’s scope were ‘“written or oral statement[s] or writing[s] made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a … judicial body.’” Thus, Clainos’ actions involving statements for the probate court fell under the statute, which covered the causes of actions of fraud, concealment, breach of fiduciary duty, deceit and promissory estoppel. The statute did not protect the causes of action of conversion and unjust enrichment because they stemmed from actions that were not “written or oral statement[s].” After a defendant demonstrates that an action is within the statute’s scope, in order to avoid a dismissal, the plaintiff must show “a reasonable probability of prevailing in its claims.’” To make this determination, the panel evaluated whether the plaintiffs’ claims could prevail against the litigation privilege, statute of limitations and res judicata. The panel concluded that only the claim of a breach of fiduciary duty could prevail. AFFIRMED in part. REVERSED in part. REMANDED.

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