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Squires v. City of Eureka

California Court of Appeals, First District, Second Division

October 17, 2014

FLOYD E. SQUIRES et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CITY OF EUREKA et al., Defendants and Respondents.

Humboldt County Superior Court No. DR100894 Honorable W. Bruce Watson

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COUNSEL

Law Office of Bradford C. Floyd, Bradford C. Floyd and Carlton D. Floyd for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Cyndy Day-Wilson, City Attorney; Burke, Williams & Sorensen and Manuela Albuquerque for Defendants and Respondents.

OPINION

RICHMAN, J.

Appellants Floyd E. Squires, III and Betty Squires (when referred to collectively, plaintiffs) sued the city of Eureka and several individuals. The complaint alleged 10 causes of action, the first seven common law claims, the last three under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court granted as to the first seven causes of action, allowing plaintiffs to conduct discovery on the other three. Following such discovery, defendants filed a renewed anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court granted in an extensive order, concluding that plaintiffs had not shown a probability of prevailing on any of their remaining claims. We reach the same conclusion, and we affirm.

BACKGROUND

The Relationship

This case arises out of an October 2010 lawsuit filed by plaintiffs against the city of Eureka (City) and various individuals connected with it (when referred to collectively, defendants). The relationship between plaintiffs and the City goes back many years, at least until the early 1990’s, when plaintiffs

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bought a property at 1429 to 1429½ Sunny Avenue, Eureka (the Sunny Avenue property). By 2010, the time the subject lawsuit was filed, plaintiffs had acquired ownership of 26 properties, ownership that apparently led to much interaction between plaintiffs and City officials—and ultimately to the lawsuit here.

As to that interaction, and what triggered what, the parties’ briefs do not agree. Plaintiffs’ brief begins as follows: “Since the filing of the present lawsuit, respondents’ behavior against petitioners has escalated. [Citation.] Shortly after petitioners filed this lawsuit, the City filed a lawsuit against petitioners attempting to appoint a receiver and gain control over all 26 of petitioners’ properties (all except petitioners’ personal residence) located within the City. [Citation.]”

Defendants’ brief describes the setting this way: “Appellants Floyd and Betty Squires are property owners in the city of Eureka who own 26 properties with code violations that eventually resulted in the City of Eureka filing a receivership action. [Citation.] Appellants filed the complaint below during the pendency of the city’s code enforcement administrative proceedings preceding the filing of the City receivership proceeding.”[1]

Plaintiffs’ Complaint

On October 14, 2010, plaintiffs filed a complaint for damages against the City and five individuals, identified by plaintiffs as follows: Sheryl Schaffner, City Attorney until her resignation on July 9, 2010; Michael Knight, public works director/building official and assistant city manager; Brian Gerving, city planning manager; Gary Broughton, deputy city engineer; and Larry Glass, councilman for the City council's ward 1. The complaint alleged ten causes of action, styled as: (1) harassment; (2) intentional interference with contractual relations; (3) intentional interference with prospective economic advantage; (4) abuse of process; (5) slander; (6) intentional infliction of emotional distress; (7) general negligence; (8) municipal liability; (9) public entity liability-failure to train; and (10) supervisor liability. The first eight causes of action were alleged against all defendants, the ninth and tenth against only the City.

The complaint was 10 pages long, much of which described the parties and their relationships. Paragraphs 12 through 14 set forth plaintiffs’ fundamental allegations, alleging as follows:

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“Defendants Schaffner, Knight, Gerving, Boughton, and Glass (Individual Defendants) have engaged and continue to engage, individually and in concert, in a course of conduct and pattern of harassment, which includes a conscious intent to deceive, vex, annoy or harm Plaintiffs in their business, i.e., they are motivated by corruption and/or malice.

“The wrongful conduct by the Individual Defendants has included, for instance, taking possession of certain Plaintiffs’ Subject Properties, wrongfully evicting Plaintiff’s tenants, falsely swearing inspection warrants, inciting members of the public to file unfounded suits against Plaintiffs, misrepresenting and manipulating evidence, wrongfully denying Plaintiffs the right to obtain permits, filing vexatious litigation, and generally trying to harm Plaintiffs and their business.

“The Individual Defendants have conspired against, and singled Plaintiffs out, from all other property owners in this community (even though many of these property owners have property in the same or similar condition as Plaintiffs’ properties) for the specific purpose of harassing, vexing, annoying and/or harming Plaintiffs. The conduct of the Individual Defendants is malicious, fraudulent and oppressive, and Plaintiffs are seeking general and special damages against Defendant City and Individual Defendants, as well as punitive damages against the Individual Defendants.”

Paragraphs 17 through 65 of the complaint alleged the essential elements of the ten causes of action mentioned above.

Defendants’ Special Motion to Strike

On November 18, 2010, defendants filed a special motion to strike each cause of action pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 415.16 (SLAPP or anti-SLAPP), [2] set for hearing on December 17.

On December 7, 2010, plaintiffs filed their opposition to the anti-SLAPP motion. The opposition ignored the first seven causes of action, focusing only on the eighth, ninth, and tenth, arguing that “plaintiffs will receive favorable judgments for their 1983 claims.”

On December 9, 2010, plaintiffs filed a motion to lift stay on discovery, requesting the court shorten time so that their motion could be heard before the anti-SLAPP motion. Plaintiffs’ motion sought to conduct discovery only as to the eighth, ninth, and tenth causes of action.

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On February 25, 2011, the trial court filed its order, granting the motion to strike the first through seventh causes of action. The court concluded that “defendants have made an initial showing that plaintiffs’ causes of action arise from protected activity under CCP section 425.16” because plaintiffs’ claims against defendants “involve actions allegedly taken by the defendants in the investigation and prosecution of plaintiffs regarding code enforcement violations occurring at real properties owned by plaintiffs.” The court also concluded that, “[b]ased upon the pleadings and admissible evidence presented in the supporting and opposing declarations... plaintiffs’ [sic] have not demonstrated a probability of prevailing on their claims. Plaintiffs have not made a prima facie showing of facts necessary to establish their claim at trial.” The order was not appealed.[3]

The Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth Causes of Action

The February 25 order also ordered that plaintiffs could “conduct discovery relating to the Eighth, Ninth, and Tenth causes of action.” These three causes of action were, as indicated, based on section 1983 of Title 42 of the United States Code, and they alleged as follows:

The eighth cause of action (municipal liability): “Each act of the defendants mentioned herein violated Plaintiffs’ civil rights, and occurred as a result of the official policy or custom of defendant City. [¶] Plaintiffs were harmed, and the defendants’ conduct was a substantial factor in causing that harm.”

The ninth cause of action (public entity liability-failure to train): “Defendant City’s training program was not adequate to train its officers and employees to properly handle usual and recurring situations. [¶] Defendant City was deliberately indifferent to the need to train its officers and employees adequately. [¶] The failure to provide proper training was the cause of the deprivation of Plaintiff’s civil rights. [¶] The Plaintiffs were harmed, and the ...


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