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Animal Legal Defense Fund v. LT Napa Parterns LLC

California Court of Appeals, First District, Fifth Division

March 5, 2015

ANIMAL LEGAL DEFENSE FUND, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
LT NAPA PARTNERS LLC, et al., Defendants and Appellants.

Superior Court of Napa County, No. 26-61166, Hon. Diane M. Price, Judge.

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COUNSEL

Greenwald & Hoffman, Paul A. Hoffman, Paul Evan Greenwald; Law Offices of Manuel S. Klausner, Manuel S. Klausner; The Michael Tenenbaum Law Firm and Michael Tenenbaum for Defendants and Appellants.

Animal Legal Defense Fund, Matthew Liebman, Christopher A. Berry; Fenwick & West and William R. Skinner for Plaintiffs and Respondents.

Drinker Biddle & Reath, Sheldon Eisenberg and Erin E. McCracken for John L. Burton as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Respondents.

OPINION

SIMONS, J.

Plaintiff and respondent Animal Legal Defense Fund (plaintiff) filed an action against defendants and appellants LT Napa Partners LLC

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and Kenneth Frank (defendants), alleging defendants sold foie gras in their Napa restaurant in violation of section 25982 of the Health and Safety Code (Section 25982). Defendants moved to strike plaintiff’s claim pursuant to the anti-SLAPP statute, [1] section 425.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Section 425.16). Defendants appeal from the trial court’s denial of the motion. We affirm.[2]

Background

In 2004, the Legislature enacted Section 25982, banning the sale of foie gras effective July 1, 2012. (See Health & Saf. Code, §25980 et seq.) Plaintiff advocated for passage of the ban and has been active in informing the public about the law and its view that production of foie gras involves cruelty to animals.[3] Defendant Frank, who is the head chef at Napa restaurant La Toque, has been a vocal opponent of Section 25982. For example, he testified at state Senate hearings preceding passage of the law, publicly debated the merits of the ban, and authored a newspaper opinion article against the ban. La Toque is owned by defendant LT Napa Partners, LLC (“LT Napa”); Frank is the managing member of LT Napa.

After the ban went into effect, plaintiff paid an investigator to dine at La Toque on three occasions in September 2012, October 2012, and March 2013. On each occasion he requested foie gras and was told that if he ordered an expensive tasting menu he would receive foie gras. On two of the occasions it was described as a “gift” from the chef. He ordered the tasting menus and was served foie gras. He was not told he was served foie gras in protest against the foie gras ban and was not provided information about defendant Frank’s opposition to the foie gras ban.[4]

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Plaintiff brought the results of its investigation to Napa law enforcement authorities. Over the course of three months, plaintiff attempted to persuade the Napa authorities to take action based on the alleged violation of Section 25982 at La Toque, but the city attorney declined. Subsequently, plaintiff initiated the present suit, alleging a cause of action under the Unfair Competition Law (“UCL”) (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200 et seq.) based on defendants’ alleged violation of Section 25982. Plaintiff does not request damages but seeks an injunction prohibiting defendants from “furnishing, preparing, or serving foie gras in any form or manner whatsoever.”

Defendants brought a special motion to strike plaintiff’s action as a SLAPP under Section 425.16. The trial court denied the motion, concluding defendants had failed to show plaintiff’s cause of action arose from protected activity and concluding plaintiff had shown a probability of prevailing on the merits. This appeal followed.[5]

Discussion

I. The Anti-SLAPP Law

“In 1992, the Legislature enacted [S]ection 425.16 in an effort to curtail lawsuits brought primarily ‘to chill the valid exercise of... freedom of speech and petition for redress of grievances’ and ‘to encourage continued participation in matters of public significance.’ (§ 425.16, subd. (a).) The section authorizes a special motion to strike ‘[a] cause of action against a person arising from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s 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 goal is to eliminate meritless or retaliatory litigation at an early stage of the proceedings. [Citations.] The statute directs the trial court to grant the special motion to strike ‘unless the court determines that the plaintiff has established that there is a ...


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