Of Golden Gate Land Holdings LLC v. Direct action everywheredecided today (correctly, I think) by the California Court of Appeals (Presiding Judge Jim Humes, joined by Judge Sandra Margulies and SF Superior Court Judge Mary Wiss):
Golden Gate, which operates a horse racing track in Berkeley, filed suit against Direct Action, an animal rights organization, and four individual defendants who are not parties to this appeal. The general allegations in the complaint asserted that the four individuals, who were “affiliated with [Direct Action],” “is mounted on [a] fence surrounding the racecourse [Golden Gate Fields (GGF)]trespassing on GGF property, “ignited incendiary devices that sent purple smoke into the air,” “[lay] directly on the running track,” and “connected their arms using PVC pipes to make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to physically evacuate. The “trespassers remained on the track for several hours,” preventing scheduled horse races from taking place. Eventually, “the intruders were evicted by the police” and “criminally charged”.
The complaint had two causes of action: one for trespass, and the other for intentional interference with potential economic relationships, in that the trespass “caused [Golden Gate] suffer economic harm.” The complaint also sought to “direct Defendants, their agents, officers, directors, employees and those acting on their behalf or in concert with them from infringing on GGF.”
The allegations linking the direct action to the trespass asserted that the defendants were affiliated with each other and liable under various theories of relational liability. Specifically, the complaint alleged that “each of the defendants…was…the agent, co-conspirator, accomplice, employee, representative, joint venturer and/or alter ego of each of the other defendants, and in doing the thing hereafter acted within the scope and scope of its authority as agent, co-conspirator, accomplice, employee, joint venturer, partner and representative, and with the permission and consent of such others defendants.” The complaint did not specify the circumstances upon which Direct Action’s alleged vicarious liability rested.
Direct Action responded to the complaint by filing an anti-SLAPP petition, saying it was being sued for engaging in constitutionally protected activity. She maintained that she was being sued “for opposing [Golden Gate’s] horse racing company, collection of signatures on a petition… to be closed [Golden Gate’s] and allegedly organized protests against the racetrack.” He claimed he “had no involvement in the civil disobedience that took place at the racetrack.” …
The court held that Direct Action was not protected by the anti-SLAPP law because it was being sued for the unlawful intrusion of its agents, not for any message they might have been trying to convey; and it concluded that Direct Action could be vicariously liable for the actions of its agents, for the same reasons. And he rejected Direct Action’s arguments that under this rule “anyone involved in a protest or social movement may be deprived of the protection of the anti-SLAPP law if the plaintiff alleges that a person associated to the demonstration or movement has committed an illegal action”:
The worry is exaggerated and inappropriate. Parties involved in protest and social movements are entitled to the protections of the anti-SLAPP law when sued for engaging in protected activities. If they are sued for the unprotected unlawful conduct of another based on allegations of vicarious liability that are vague, conclusive or legally insufficient, they may file an objection or bring another summary challenge. In such a challenge, the relevance of the allegations may be considered in light of the applicable law and, if necessary, modifications may be authorized to remedy the deficiencies in the pleadings….
Yet the anti-SLAPP law does not immunize advocacy organizations, including Direct Action, from claims based on vicarious liability for the unprotected conduct of others simply because of the nature of their missions. organizational. Such claims can sometimes be untenable, but sometimes they can be legitimate.
Congratulations to Robert R. Moore, Michael J. Betz, Alexander J. Doherty and Allen Matkins Leck of Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, who represented the plaintiff.