Appellate Court Refused to Inject Civil Rights Fee “Frivolity” Standards Into SLAPP Mandatory Fee Recovery Statute.
In Williams v. County of Los Angeles, Case No. B234100 (2d Dist., Div. 5 Nov. 8, 2012) (unpublished), plaintiff was hit with post-appeal SLAPP fees of over $40,000 when defendants successfully defended a SLAPP grant in a previous cause. The lower court refused to tax costs, and granted all the requested fees to defendants, prompting an appeal by plaintiff yet again.
The fee awards were affirmed.
The principal argument by plaintiff was that the appellate court should engraft the “unreasonable, frivolous, meritless or vexatious” standard governing fee recovery against a civil rights plaintiff under federal law into the state SLAPP mandatory fee grant statute. The reviewing court refused to do because CCP § 425.16(c)(1) “does not include the limit plaintiff seeks, and we may not import such a limit from other statutes.”
Because plaintiff had no cause of action arising under the Brown Act (which requires public meetings by government in usual situations), the Brown Act exception to mandatory fee recovery set forth in the SLAPP statute did not apply.
Plaintiff then tried to creatively argue that he could have amended his complaint to allege a Brown Act violation, but the reviewing court rebuffed this when observing that the SLAPP motion focuses on the complaint rather than the amended complaint allegations.
Finally, although no authority was cited, plaintiff last contended that the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure would have allowed him an amendment opportunity such that any contrary state procedural rule was violative of the supremacy clause. Nope, said the reviewing court. States can establish their own rules of procedure, and plaintiff did not show that the challenged state law is inconsistent with the federal statute. (See County of Los Angeles v. Superior Court, 139 Cal.App.4th 8, 17 (2006) [analyzing Felder v. Casey, 487 U.S. 131, 108 S.Ct. 2302 (1988) in an analogous context].)