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Mefford v. Cameron Park Community Services District

July 15, 2010

TAMMY MEFFORD, PLAINTIFF(S),
v.
CAMERON PARK COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, A PUBLIC ENTITY; ALAN CLARKE, AN INDIVIDUAL; DAVID M. JOHNSON, AN INDIVIDUAL AND; KENNETH E. CATER AN INDIVIDUAL DEFENDANT(S).



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable John Mendez

ORDER ON DEFENDANTS' CAMERON PARK COMMUNITY SERVICES DISTRICT, DAVID JOHNSON, ALAN CLARKE SPECIAL MOTION TO STRIKE (Anti-Slapp) [CCP 425.16]

Date; June 30, 2010

Time: 9:30 a.m.

Dept.: 6

The respective Anti-SLAPP Special Motions to Strike (California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16) by Defendants, Cameron Park Community Services District, David M. Johnson and Alan Clarke came on for hearing in Department 6 on June 30, 2010. Michael Ahmad appeared on behalf of Plaintiff Tammy Mefford. James K. Ward appeared on behalf of Cameron Park Community Services District. Domenic Spinelli appeared on behalf of David M. Johnson. Derek Haynes appeared on behalf of Alan Clarke.

After full consideration of the written and oral submissions by the parties, the Court rules as follows:

The Court grants each Defendant's Motion to Strike as to Plaintiff's eighth, ninth, and tenth causes of action.

The Court notes that Plaintiff did argue, as a preliminary matter, that if the Court was inclined to grant these Motions to Strike, that she should be given an opportunity to conduct discovery to make a prima facie showing of fact to demonstrate that she will prevail at trial. The Court finds that in doing so that Plaintiff has incorrectly read Rogers v. Home Shopping Network, Inc., (Central Dist. CA 1999) 57 F.Supp.2d 973, to hold that the Special Motion to Strike must be used as a summary judgment motion. While it is true that a Special Motion to Strike may be used as a summary judgment motion, this will occur only in those cases where the motion is based on a plaintiff's alleged failure of proof. A Special Motion to Strike must be decided pursuant to the standards of FRCP Rule 12(b)(6) or Rule 56. "If a defendant makes a special motion to strike based on the alleged deficiencies in the plaintiff's complaint, the motion must be treated in the same manner as a motion under Rule 12(b)(6) except that the attorney's fee provision of Section 425.16(c) applies." (Rogers v. Home Shopping Network, Inc., (Central Dist. CA 1999) 57 F.Supp.2d 973, 983.)

In this case before this Court, the Defendants' Motions to Strike are based on the deficiencies in the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint. Defendants all argue that Plaintiff alleges no facts to support her theory that Defendants' speech was not protected. And in this case, the Court has treated these three Anti-SLAPP motions as motions to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

Eighth Cause of Action for Invasion of Privacy (False Light)

In terms of the eighth cause of action the Court finds that the Plaintiff has not alleged facts to meet the elements of this claim. The Defendants have demonstrated that their alleged statements were made in a public forum and related to an issue of public concern.

Specifically, the Defendants criticized Plaintiff's work performance and professional competence in front of her staff and the public. By doing so, that does not support a cause of action for publication of private facts in a false light because the facts in this case, as alleged, were an issue of public concern.

As the general manager of a community services district, the Plaintiff was the highest level management appointee who was directly responsible to the board of directors for the implementation of policies established by the board of directors. Public discussion about the qualifications of those who hold or wish to hold positions of public trust presents the strongest possible case for application of the safeguards afforded by the First Amendment. (Damon v. Ocean Hills Journalism Club (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 468, 479.)

Plaintiff has alleged that the offending statements related to her work at the district. Thus, by her own admission, Defendants' statements are protected because her work as the general manager of the district is an issue of public interest. As the general manager of the district, Plaintiff was in charge of an entity that provided vital public services. Plaintiff has not identified any fact to dispute the importance of her position or how her employment would not greatly affect the public interest.

There are also no factual allegations regarding an improper disclosure of Plaintiff's employment information in the Plaintiff's First Amended Complaint as it stands now. Although Plaintiff contends that some of the Defendants' statements were made during private conversations, she does not address in her opposition the fact that private conversations regarding public issues are also protected under the Anti-SLAPP statute. (Averill v. Superior Court (1996) 42 Cal.App.4th 1170, 1175.)

Further, although Plaintiff argues that information regarding personal employment matters is private, Plaintiff has failed to address the fact that not all information regarding employment matters are private and confidential, especially those that relate to employees with important public functions.

Plaintiff has raised an argument that the Defendants released two pages of a confidential investigative report. However, that allegation does not appear anywhere in either the original complaint or the First Amended Complaint. This allegation is only found in Plaintiff's declaration, which the Court has considered only for purposes of whether it should grant leave to amend.

Plaintiff, in short, cannot ignore the deficiencies of the First Amended Complaint and re-characterize her factual allegations through her recently submitted declaration. As such, Plaintiff has not demonstrated that she will prevail on her eighth cause of action. For that reason, ...


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