We wrote recently about Sherrod v. Breitbart and O’Connor, the case argued last month in the D.C. Circuit that asks the Court to decide, among other questions, whether the District of Columbia’s anti-SLAPP statute should be applied in federal court.
The federal courts of appeals that have analyzed this question have all agreed that state anti-SLAPP statutes should be applied—at least to some degree—in federal court. Those cases point to the Ninth Circuit’s 1999 decision in Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., in which the Court held that California’s anti-SLAPP law was substantive, not procedural, and therefore should be applied by a federal court.
The Ninth Circuit recently issued an opinion in Makaeff v. Trump University that faithfully followed the Court’s precedent in Newsham, applying California’s anti-SLAPP statute to strike a counterclaim claim brought in federal court by Trump University against a woman who had filed a class-action claim against the program founded by Donald Trump to offer real estate investment seminars and training programs.
The bulk of the Court’s opinion focused on whether Trump University was a “public figure,” as required by California’s anti-SLAPP law. The Court reversed the trial court, holding that it was a “limited public figure.”
Perhaps more interesting, however, were two concurrences written by Judge Kozinski and Judge Paez arguing that Newsham was wrongly decided and that state anti-SLAPP statutes should not apply in federal court. Both concurrences argue that anti-SLAPP statutes are, in fact, largely procedural, and therefore should not be applied in federal court to supplant federal procedural rules. Judge Kozinski, known for his sharp writing, called Newsham “a big mistake” that had been “foolishly followed” by the First Circuit and Fifth Circuit. Judge Kozinski and Judge Paez clearly want the Ninth Circuit to re-examine Newsham en banc.
Judge Kozinski is an influential jurist across the country, and one cannot help but wonder whether his concurrence at this point was also intended to send a message to the D.C. Circuit as it considers Sherrod. Of course, if the D.C. Circuit were to hold that D.C.’s law does not apply in federal court, there would be a circuit split on that question that might draw the attention of the Supreme Court.