Legal News and Appellate Tips

Each week, TVA appellate attorney Tim Kowal reviews several recent decisions out of the appellate courts in California, and elsewhere, and reports about the ones that might help you get an edge in your cases and appeals.

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Tag: Frivolous Appeals

Attorney Sanctioned Over $24K for Frivolous SLAPP & Appeal

Earlier this year, the almost $25,000 in sanctions turned heads in Clarity Co. Consulting, LLC v. Gabriel (D2d6 Apr. 12, 2022) 77 Cal.App.5th 454. (Jeff Lewis and I covered Clarity in episode 31 of the California Appellate Law Podcast.)

But there are two important lessons about anti-SLAPP motions in the case, involving a garden-variety contract complaint for failing to pay a service agreement. They are worth bookmarking, as they still come up too often in anti-SLAPP motions:

1. Just because there is litigation-related activity alleged in the complaint, that does not necessary make the complaint a SLAPP. It is only a SLAPP if the activity is the “principal thrust or gravamen” of the cause of action. Yes, you already knew that. And that is what Clarity held: everbody knows that, so if you don’t know it by now and file an anti-SLAPP motion based on incidental litigation activity, get ready to get sanctioned.

2. Just because there is speech alleged in the complaint does not mean it is subject to the SLAPP statute. The speech has to be relate to a public issue or issue of public interest. (That is why there are two “Ps” in the acronym.) Yes, you already knew that, too. But that is Clarity’s point: everybody knows that, so if you insist on filing an anti-SLAPP motion based on private speech, get ready to get sanctioned.

Finally, the Clarity court offers this PSA on behalf of appellate attorneys everywhere:

“[T]rial attorneys who prosecute their own appeals … may have ‘tunnel vision.’ Having tried the case themselves, they become convinced of the merits of their cause. They may lose objectivity and would be well served by consulting and taking the advice of disinterested members of the bar, schooled in appellate practice." (Estate of Gilkison (1998) 65 Cal.App.4th 1443, 1449-1450, 77 Cal.Rptr.2d 463.)”

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Vexatious Litigants Have No Right to Appeal Denial of Request to File New Action, Say Appellate Court Splitting from Authority

The vexatious litigant in Marriage of Deal (D1d3 Jun. 21, 2022) no. A164185 (nonpub. opn.) is not a very sympathetic figure. The ex-husband, Thomas Deal, having filed 12 appeals and seven writ petitions after his divorce proceedings years ago, continued filing meritless actions and appeals that made “implicit threats against various members of the California judiciary and the State Bar.” Thomas, the court observes, now “stands alone on the silent battleground rattling his saber.”

No surprise, then that the trial court declared him a vexatious litigant. And once a court declares a litigant to be vexatious, Code of Civil Procedure sections 391 and 391.7 prevent the litigant from filing new litigation without obtaining permission from the presiding judge.

So Thomas requested permission. And it was denied. And so Thomas, going for a baker’s dozen, filed his 13th appeal from the denial.

But surprisingly, the court held that the prefiling denial under section 391 is not an appealable order. This is directly opposite published authority that a prefiling order under section 391.7 against a vexatious litigant “meets the definition of an injunction.” (Luckett v. Panos (2008) 161 Cal.App.4th 77, 90.)

Prof. Shaun Martin, though agreeing Thomas’s appeal was frivolous, worries about denying appellate review: “We don't generally let a single judge decide things once and for all without any right to review whatsoever.”

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Appeal Held Not Frivolous, But Lawyer Argued It Frivolously

The 10th Circuit sanctioned the attorney of a homeowner tenaciously trying to avoid foreclosure on her home. The court noted that "an appeal may be frivolous as filed or as […]

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