July 31, 2009

Berry v. Taggart: Trial Court Properly Denied Motion to Strike

The California Court of Appeal (First District, Division 1) issued this unpublished opinion, affirming a trial court order denying a defendant's special motion to strike the plaintiff's complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (the "anti-SLAPP" statute).

I won't delve into the anti-SLAPP aspects of this opinion, which are beyond the scope of this blog. For our purposes, its important to note only that an appellate court reviewing the denial of an anti-SLAPP motion must consider whether the plaintiff established a probability of prevailing on the complaint. With respect to the punitive damages allegation in the complaint, the defendant argued that the plaintiff could not prevail on its fifth cause of action for punitive damages because California law does not recognize a "cause of action" for punitive damages.

The Court of Appeal agreed that there is no separate cause of action or tort for punitive damages under California law. But the court nevertheless concluded that the fifth cause of action in plaintiff's complaint, although styled as a cause of action for punitive damages, actually stated facts sufficient to support a cause of action for malicious prosecution. The court went on to say that, because punitive damages are unquestionably recoverable in a malicious prosecution action, plaintiff had established a likelihood of obtaining punitive damages sufficient to defeat the defendant's special motion to strike.