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David Bleavins v. John A. Demarest et al

June 29, 2011

DAVID BLEAVINS, PLAINTIFF AND RESPONDENT,
v.
JOHN A. DEMAREST ET AL., DEFENDANTS AND APPELLANTS.



APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of Los Angeles County, Ronald M. Sohigian, Judge. (Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC436674)

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

CERTIFIED FOR PUBLICATION

Affirmed in part and reversed in part with directions.

In a prior lawsuit, plaintiff sued his neighbors over an easement dispute involving a driveway they all shared. An insurance company provided the neighbors with a defense. Plaintiff then filed this action against the neighbors' attorneys, alleging that, in the prior action, the attorneys improperly represented the neighbors, made misrepresentations in the course of the litigation, engaged in frivolous litigation tactics, and failed to provide plaintiff with promised documents and information. The complaint contained seven causes of action.

The attorneys filed a special motion to strike, contending this action was a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16; undesignated statutory sections are to that code). The trial court granted the motion as to one cause of action and denied it as to the rest. This appeal followed.

We conclude that all of plaintiff's causes of action arise out of written or oral statements made either before a judicial proceeding (see § 425.16, subd. (e)(1)) or in connection with an issue under consideration by a judicial body (see id., subd. (e)(2)). Further, plaintiff is not reasonably likely to prevail on any cause of action. (See id., subd. (b)(1)). Thus, the trial court should have granted the anti-SLAPP motion in its entirety. We therefore reverse the order and remand so the trial court may award attorney fees and costs to the attorneys. (See id., subd. (c)(1).)

I BACKGROUND

The allegations and evidence in this case are taken from the pleadings and the declarations submitted in the trial court with respect to the anti-SLAPP motion.

A. Complaint

In a prior suit filed on February 3, 2009, David Bleavins sued Gary and Karen Dannenbaum for breach of an "easement agreement" (Bleavins v. Dannenbaum (Super. Ct. L.A. County, 2009, No. SC101608) (Bleavins I)). Allstate Insurance Company (Allstate) provided the Dannenbaums with a defense under a reservation of rights. Attorney John A. Demarest and his law firm, Hanger, Steinberg, Shapiro & Ash (collectively the firm), represented the Dannenbaums. Bleavins I was dismissed the following year.

Meanwhile, on April 28, 2010, Bleavins, in propria persona, filed this action against the firm, alleging seven causes of action: (1) intentional violation of public policy; (2) negligent violation of public policy; (3) unfair business practices (intentional); (4) unfair business practices (negligent); (5) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (6) negligent infliction of emotional distress; and (7) fraud. Allstate, which is not a party to this appeal, was also sued.

The first six causes of action -- all but the fraud claim -- alleged that "defendants" -- the firm and Allstate -- had agreed to provide the Dannenbaums with insurance coverage for intentional torts and that such an agreement violated public policy, insurance laws, and fair business practices. By providing the Dannenbaums with a defense, the firm and Allstate had "empowered and emboldened [the Dannenbaums] to continue to breach their easement agreement with [Bleavins] and to commit additional and continuing intentional torts against [him]."

The fraud claim alleged that, in Bleavins I, the firm had stated it "would represent [the Dannenbaums] in a professional, honorable, and honest manner" and "would act in good faith to settle and resolve disputes between [its] clients and [Bleavins]." The firm "only care[d] about protracting [the] litigation, abusing the legal system, filing frivolous and unmeritorious motions and objections, and billing co-defendant Allstate for as much and as long as possible." In addition, Attorney Demarest "personally promised [Bleavins] to provide [him with] documents, information, updates, and cooperation." On or about November 23, 2009, Bleavins learned that the firm "had ...


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