Anti-SLAPP "protected activities" include filing of unlawful detainer actions

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In Trapp v. Naiman, the California Court of Appeal for the Fourth Appellate District decided an interesting real property case. The case began as a non-judicial foreclosure and unlawful detainer matter.  The case then morphed into claims of abuse of process against the attorney who initiated the real property litigation.

This action arose out of a non-judicial foreclosure proceeding brought by LaSalle Bank against Benni G. Trapp. Attorney Randall Naiman was retained by LaSalle Bank. Naiman served three separate 3/60-days notices to vacate on Trapp, followed by three separate unlawful detainers actions, which were eventually dismissed.

Trapp then filed suit against Naiman, alleging causes of action for breach of the duty of good faith and fair dealing, negligence and abuse of process. Trapp alleged that Naiman abused the court process by filing the unlawful detainer actions. In response, Naiman filed an anti-SLAPP motion, claiming that the unlawful detainer actions were “protected activity” under the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court granted the anti-SLAPP motion as to the negligence and abuse of process claims, but denied relief as to other claims.

The Court of Appeal noted that Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16, also known as the anti-SLAPP statute, was enacted to protect valid exercise of constitutional rights such as the right of petition or free speech. In Garretson v. Post, the Court held that the “act of noticing a non-judicial foreclosure does not quality as a protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute.”

Here, the Appellate Court noted that Trapp’s primary assertion was that Naiman wrongfully foreclosed on the subject property. However, Trapp acknowledged that Naiman was not directly involved in the non-judicial foreclosure proceeding. The Court found that Trapp attempted to circumvent the anti-SLAPP statute by merging those proceedings to Naiman’s representation of their clients in the unlawful detainer actions. The court noted that those actions, are proper and protected under the anti-SLAPP statute.

Thus, the Court of Appeal concluded that the trial court erred in denying Naiman’s anti-SLAPP motion.

Brian Fu also contributed to this article.