Vang et al v. Lopey, et al.,

Filing 50

ORDER signed by District Judge John A. Mendez on 01/04/17 ORDERING that Defendant's 16 Special Motion to Strike is DENIED. (Benson, A)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 12 13 JESSE VANG; WANG CHANG; JOUA CHAO MOUA; ALEXANDER VANG; DANG XIONG; DOLLARSAI YURGH; JOUA YENG VANG; MANISY MOUA; POUA VANG; RICHARD VANG; and DOES 1-200, No. 2:16-cv-2172-JAM-CMK ORDER DENYING DEFENDANTS’ MOTION TO STRIKE 14 Plaintiffs, 15 v. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 SHERIFF JON LOPEY, individually and in his capacity as Sheriff for the COUNTY OF SISKIYOU; COLLEEN SETZER; individually and in her capacity as Clerk for the COUNTY OF SISKIYOU; ALEX NISHIMURA, individually and in his capacity as an agent of the CALIFORNIA SECRETARY OF STATE; the COUNTY OF SISKIYOU; CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF FORESTRY AND FIRE PROTECTION; Does 1-20, in their individual capacity; and DOES 1-20, inclusive, Defendants. 26 27 28 Defendants Sheriff Jon Lopey, County Clerk Colleen Setzer, and the County of Siskiyou (collectively “Defendants”) filed a 1 1 special motion to strike Plaintiffs’ complaint pursuant to 2 California Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16 3 (“Section 425.16” or “the anti-SLAPP statute”). 4 Plaintiffs oppose the motion. 5 forth below, the Court DENIES Defendants’ motion to strike. 1 ECF No. 30. ECF No. 16. For the reasons set 6 7 I. 8 9 FACTUAL ALLEGATIONS AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND Plaintiffs, ten members of the Hmong community, allege that “[t]he local government in Siskiyou County is engaged in a 10 systematic campaign to deprive Plaintiffs, and other members of 11 the Hmong community, of their right to vote, and their right to 12 the exclusive use and enjoyment of their private property.” 13 Compl. ¶ 1, ECF No. 1. 14 “[D]efendants conspired to disenfranchise Plaintiffs by 15 challenging their status as California residents through racially 16 discriminatory implementation and enforcement of County 17 Ordinances, and as to some plaintiffs, threatened prosecution.” 18 Compl. ¶ 2. 19 Plaintiffs further allege that In the June 2016 primary election, the voters of Siskiyou 20 County approved two ordinances regarding the cultivation of 21 marijuana. 22 disproportionately targeted the Hmong community in enforcing the 23 new ordinances. 24 Defendants executed search warrants on various properties and 25 that during the searches “residents who were present were Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants have Compl. ¶ 4. Plaintiffs also allege that 26 27 28 1 This motion was determined to be suitable for decision without oral argument. E.D. Cal. L.R. 230(g). The hearing was scheduled for November 15, 2016. 2 1 handcuffed and held at gunpoint while their properties were 2 ransacked.” 3 marijuana plants during the searches. 4 Additionally, each Plaintiff alleges that individuals with guns 5 came onto their property to investigate voter fraud. 6 12-21. 7 Compl. ¶ 31. Defendants allegedly seized medical Compl. ¶ 31. Compl. at Plaintiffs bring eleven causes of action: (1) violation of 8 the Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable search and 9 seizure, (2) violation of the Fourteenth Amendment, (3) municipal 10 liability against the County on a failure to train theory, 11 (4) supervisory liability against Sheriff Lopey, (5) employer 12 liability against the County, (6) negligence, (7) negligent 13 hiring and supervision, (8) violation of California Elections 14 Code Section 14027, (9) violation of Section 2 of the Voting 15 Rights Act, codified at 52 USC § 10301, (10) negligent infliction 16 of emotional distress, and (11) ratification against the County. 17 Compl. at 24-30. 18 eleventh claims pursuant to § 1983. Plaintiffs bring their first through fifth and Id. 19 20 II. OPINION 21 A. Legal Standard 22 The California legislature enacted Section 425.16 to 23 “provide a procedure for expeditiously resolving nonmeritorious 24 litigation meant to chill the valid exercise of the 25 constitutional rights of freedom of speech and petition in 26 connection with a public issue.” 27 2013 WL 4732603, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 3, 2013) (citing Hansen 28 v. Cal. Dep’t of Corr. & Rehab., 171 Cal. App. 4th 1537, 1542-43 Riese v. Cty. of Del Norte, 3 1 (2008)). Section 425.16 provides that: A 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 or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a probability that the plaintiff will prevail on the claim. 2 3 4 5 6 7 Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(b)(1). 8 in furtherance of a person’s right of petition or free speech” 9 as: 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 The statute defines “act (1) any written or oral statement or writing made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other official proceeding authorized by law, (2) any written or oral statement or writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law, (3) any written or oral statement or writing made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest, or (4) any other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(e). In deciding an anti-SLAPP motion, courts engage in a two- 21 step process. Riese, 2013 WL 4732603, at *2. “First, the 22 moving defendant has the burden to demonstrate that the act or 23 acts of which the plaintiff complains were taken in furtherance 24 of the defendant's right of petition or free speech under the 25 United States or California Constitution in connection with a 26 public issue as defined in the statute.” 27 Outlet #2, Inc. v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., 2014 WL 197733, at 28 *2 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 14, 2014). USA Wheel & Tire The defendant must “demonstrat[e] 4 1 that the facts underlying the plaintiff’s complaint fit[] one of 2 the categories spelled out in section 425.16, subdivision (e).” 3 Riese, 2013 WL 4732603, at *2. 4 the defendant has met its burden, the court “must determine 5 whether the plaintiff has demonstrated a probability of 6 prevailing on the claim.” Second, if the court finds that Id. 7 B. 8 Plaintiffs bring their first through fifth and eleventh 9 Analysis claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and their ninth claim under the 10 Voting Rights Act. 11 under the anti-SLAPP statute. 12 anti-SLAPP statute cannot be used to strike federal causes of 13 action”). 14 pertains only to Plaintiffs’ sixth, seventh, eighth, and tenth 15 causes of action. 16 The Court cannot strike these federal claims See id. at *3 (stating that “the Defendants’ special motion to strike therefore Defendants argue that the anti-SLAPP statute applies in 17 this case because “the County Defendants’ alleged conduct was 18 during or in connection with official proceedings authorized by 19 law on matters of public interest.” 20 Defendants argue that “[i]nvestigatory activities by public 21 agencies are ‘official proceedings authorized by law.’” 22 Defendants also contend that because investigatory activities 23 are “official proceedings authorized by law,” such activities 24 are protected under the anti-SLAPP statute. 25 Mot. to Strike at 9. Id. Id. Defendants’ argument fails for at least three reasons. 26 First, Defendants do not indicate under which of the four 27 enumerated categories of protected activities their actions 28 fall. Defendants state in their motion to strike that “[a] 5 1 defendant meets the burden of establishing [the] first step ‘by 2 demonstrating that the act underlying the plaintiff’s cause fits 3 on one of the categories spelled out in section 425.16, 4 subdivision (e).’” 5 admission of this burden, Defendants fail to identify the 6 category into which their acts fit. 7 Mot. to Strike at 8. Despite their own Second, the cases that Defendants rely upon in support of 8 their argument that their investigatory activities are protected 9 by the anti-SLAPP statute are not directly on point. In 10 Garamendi v. Golden Eagle Ins. Co., 128 Cal. App. 4th 452, 478 11 (2005), the court stated that “[t]he term ‘official proceeding’ 12 extends to investigatory activities by public agencies.” 13 defendants in Garamendi, however, did not bring a special motion 14 to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute. 15 mention Section 425.16 and only discusses the term “official 16 proceeding” as it pertains to the litigation privilege created 17 by California Civil Code Section 47. 18 rely on Garamendi because the California Supreme Court once 19 stated that statements protected under the Section 47(b) 20 litigation privilege are ‘equally entitled to the benefits of 21 section 425.16.” 22 Opportunity, 19 Cal. 4th 1106, 1115 (1999). 23 (quoting. 24 California Supreme Court more recently held that “the litigation 25 privilege and the anti-SLAPP statute are substantively different 26 statutes that serve quite different purposes” and that the 27 litigation privilege may apply to statements that are 28 “nonetheless not protected under the anti-SLAPP statute.” The Garamendi does not Id. Defendants apparently Briggs v. Eden Council for Hope and Mot. to Strike at 9 But Defendants’ reliance on Briggs is misplaced: the 6 1 Flatly v. Mauro, 39 Cal. 4th 299, 322 (2006). 2 clear that privilege under Section 47(b) and protection under 3 Section 425.16 are not synonymous, as Defendants suggest. 4 Flatly makes Third, the anti-SLAPP statute specifically protects 5 “statement[s] or writing[s]” or “conduct in furtherance of the 6 exercise of the constitutional right of petition or the 7 constitutional right of free speech.” 8 § 425.16. 9 or writing[s]” that gave rise to Plaintiffs’ allegations. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code Defendants do not identify any specific “statement[s] 10 Defendants argue that their investigatory conduct is entitled to 11 anti-SLAPP protection, but they fail to show whether such 12 conduct was performed “in furtherance of” Defendants’ right of 13 petition or free speech. 14 Defendants fail to meet their burden to show that the anti- 15 SLAPP statute applies to their alleged acts in this case. 16 the Court need not engage in step two of the anti-SLAPP 17 analysis. Thus, Defendants’ motion to strike is denied. 18 C. Fees and Costs 19 The Court denies Defendants’ request for fees and costs 20 associated with this motion because Defendants have not 21 prevailed. See Cal. Civ. Pro. Code § 425.16(c). 22 23 24 25 26 II. ORDER For the reasons set forth above, the Court DENIES Defendants’ special motion to strike. IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: January 4, 2017 27 28 7

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