Appellant employee sought review of an order from the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (California), which granted respondent attorney’s special motion to strike the employee’s cross-complaint for defamation in a suit brought by a former employer alleging breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets.
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The employee was fired amid allegations that he had misappropriated customer lists and solicited his employer’s customers to start a competing business. The employer’s attorney drafted a letter to the employer’s customers that accused the employee of breach of contract and misappropriation of trade secrets. The letter indicated that the employer intended to commence litigation against the employee. Several months later, the employer did so. The employee filed a cross-complaint in which he alleged that the attorney’s letter had defamed him. The attorney argued that the letter was constitutionally protected petitioning activity. The court held that the attorney’s letter was protected speech because it was a writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a judicial body, within the meaning of Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16, subd. (e)(2). The court determined that the letter directly related to the employer’s claims and that when the letter was written, the employer was seriously and in good faith contemplating litigation against the employee. The court noted that case law under Civ. Code, § 47, subd. (b), was helpful but not dispositive in resolving the issue.
The court affirmed the trial court’s order.