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Oasis West Realty, LLC v. Goldman

March 3, 2010

OASIS WEST REALTY, LLC, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
KENNETH A. GOLDMAN ET AL. DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from a judgment of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County. Norman P. Tarle, Judge. Reversed. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. SC101564).

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Armstrong, J.

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

This case presents itself as one concerning Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 ("section 425.16"), the anti-SLAPP special motion to strike. In fact, the case primarily concerns the scope of an attorney's duty to a former client.

Defendants and appellants Reed Smith LLP, a law firm, and Kenneth Goldman, a partner at Reed Smith, for a time represented plaintiff and respondent Oasis West Realty, Inc. in connection with Oasis's efforts to redevelop real estate it owned in Beverly Hills. Two years after Reed Smith ended the representation, Goldman took some action in opposition to the redevelopment. Oasis sued Goldman and Reed Smith for breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence, and breach of contract on the theory that Goldman's acts constituted a breach of appellants' ethical duties to Oasis.

Appellants filed a special motion to strike, contending that all causes of action arose from Goldman's acts "in furtherance of [his] right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue." (§ 425.16, subd. (b)(1).) The trial court held that section 425.16 did not apply because the gravamen of the action was breach of an attorney's duties of loyalty and confidentiality.

Our review is de novo review. (Tutor-Saliba Corp. v. Herrera (2006) 136 Cal.App.4th 604.) After conducting such a review, we conclude that all causes of action in the complaint arose from acts in furtherance of protected activity, and that Oasis could not show a probability of prevailing at trial. (Briggs v. Eden Council for Hope & Opportunity (1999) 19 Cal.4th 1106, 1123.) We thus reverse.

Facts and Allegations

Oasis West owned property in Beverly Hills which it wished to redevelop with a new hotel, luxury condominiums, and other improvements. (There was a Hilton hotel on the property, and the project is often referred to as the Hilton project.) The project required the approval of the Beverly Hills City Council.

On January 24, 2004, Oasis retained Reed Smith to represent it in connection with the project. Goldman was to have overall responsibility for the matter. In its complaint, Oasis alleged that it hired Reed Smith to "render advice, strategic planning and assistance in the formulation of the Project . . . and to interface with the City officials from whom Oasis sought support for the project." The complaint also alleged that Oasis sought Goldman's assistance because he was an expert in civic matters and because he was "a well-respected, influential leader who was extremely active in Beverly Hills politics." He was president of the Southwest Homeowners Association and had appeared before the City Council many times to address other developments in the City. Oasis alleged that it understood that Goldman's "statements and opinions on City development matters bore significant influence on City Council members and the local citizenry," particularly members of the Southwest Homeowners Association.

Reed Smith represented Oasis in connection with the Hilton project for a little over a year, until April of 2006. During that period, Oasis paid Reed Smith about $60,000 in fees.

Oasis's complaint alleged that during the representation, Goldman "was intimately involved in the formulation of the plan for Oasis' [sic] development of the Property, its overall strategy to secure all necessary approvals and entitlements from the City and its efforts to obtain public support for the Project. Mr. Goldman was a key Oasis representative in dealing with Beverly Hills City Officials, including the Planning Commission and City Council. Throughout the representation, Oasis revealed confidences to Mr. Goldman, which it reasonably believed would remain forever inviolate."

Oasis's development proposal was put before the City Council in June 2006. For the next two years, the Council and the City's Planning Commission reviewed the project and held hearings on such things as the size of the buildings, parking, traffic, and so on. In April 2008, the Council certified the EIR and introduced an ordinance approving a development agreement between the City and Oasis.

Many Beverly Hills citizens opposed the project. On April 30, 2008, a political action committee called Citizens' Right to Decide Committee was formed, with the goal of putting a referendum on the ballot which would leave approval of the project up to the voters.

It was at this point that Goldman took the acts of which Oasis later complained. Oasis's complaint characterized Goldman's actions thusly: After Reed Smith terminated the representation, Goldman "switched sides," and "engaged in acts of treachery and disloyalty," intended to cause the City Council to deny permission for the project. The complaint alleged that Goldman "lent his support to a citizen's group opposed to the Project and campaigned for and solicited signatures for a Petition circulated by said citizen's group that sought to abrogate the City Council's approval of the Project and instead place approval of the Project in the hands of the citizenry by proposition . . . ."

Goldman's declaration in support of the special motion to strike is more specific. He declared that he took no part in any of the public hearings and discussions concerning the project for two years after Reed Smith's relationship with Oasis was terminated. After that, he did two things.

On May 6, 2008, he addressed the City Council, opposing a rule which required individuals seeking signatures on the referendum petition to carry with them the entire EIR and other documents, totaling about 15 pounds. Goldman's statement was that the requirement was unnecessary and unfair "whether you're for the Hilton or for the Referendum."*fn1

On May 12, 2008, he and his wife spent about 90 minutes soliciting signatures on the referendum petition from their neighbors. At 4 or 5 houses, they left a "dear neighbor" note which they both signed, expressing concern about the size of the project and the traffic impact, indicating that they would sign the referendum petition, and urging the neighbor to do the same.

Goldman declared that he at no time disclosed confidential information to anyone, and did not believe that he disclosed that he had ever worked for ...


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