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Wagner v. Southern California Edison Co.

United States District Court, C.D. California

September 9, 2019

THOMAS H. WAGNER, Plaintiff,




         Following the Court's Order Granting, In Part, Denying, In Part, Defendant Southern California Edison Company's (“Edison”) Special Motion to Strike (“Anti-SLAPP Order, ” ECF No. 167) and a jury trial, Edison moved to recover its attorneys' fees and costs (Mot. for Att'ys' Fees (“Mot.”), ECF No. 219). Specifically, Edison argues that it is the prevailing party on its Special Motion to Strike Defamation Claim (“Anti-SLAPP Motion”) (ECF No. 138), and is thus entitled to recover its attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16. For the following reasons, the Court GRANTS Edison's Motion.[1]


         On February 19, 2019, Edison filed its Anti-SLAPP Motion to strike Plaintiff Thomas Wagner's (“Wagner”) defamation claim. On April 18, 2019, the Court granted, in part, and denied, in part, Edison's Anti-SLAPP Motion. (Anti-SLAPP Order 1.) Specifically, the Court found that statements made to Edison's human resources department did not qualify for protection under the anti-SLAPP statute, but struck Wagner's defamation claim as it related to statements made to Edison's workers' compensation representative. (Anti-SLAPP Order 6-9.)

         On April 23, 2019, a jury trial commenced in this case. (Mins. of Jury Trial, ECF No. 192.) On April 26, 2019, the jury returned a special verdict of $300 for Wagner on his defamation claim and for Edison on all other claims. (Jury Verdict, ECF No. 202.) Edison now moves to recover its attorneys' fees and costs on the basis that it was the prevailing party on the Anti-SLAPP Motion. (Mot. 3-4.)


         California's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation) statute allows defendants to make a special motion to strike a claim if that claim arises from an act by the defendants to further their right of petition or free speech in connection with a public issue. Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(b)(1); see also Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., 190 F.3d 963, 973 (9th Cir. 1999) (concluding that the twin aims of the Erie doctrine “favor application of California's anti-SLAPP statute in federal cases). “[A] prevailing defendant on a special motion to strike shall be entitled to recover [its] attorney's fees and costs.” Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 425.16(c)(1); Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1131 (2001) (“[A]ny SLAPP defendant who brings a successful motion to strike is entitled to mandatory attorney fees.”).

         A. Prevailing Party

         A party that partially prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion “must generally be considered a prevailing party unless the results of the motion were so insignificant that the party did not achieve any practical benefit from bringing the motion.” Mann v. Quality Old Time Serv., Inc., 139 Cal.App. 4th, 328, 340 (2006). Courts will consider the following factors in determining whether to award attorneys' fees to parties that partially prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion: (1) “extent to which the defendant's litigation posture was advanced by the motion”; (2) “whether the same factual allegations remain to be litigated”; (3) “whether discovery and motion practice have been narrowed”; and (4) “the extent to which future litigation expenses and strategy were impacted by the motion.” Id. at 345.

         Here, it is undisputed that Edison partially prevailed on its Anti-SLAPP Motion. (See Opp'n to Mot. (“Opp'n”) 7, ECF No. 224; Mot. 5.) Wagner argues only that the results of the Anti-SLAPP Motion were minimal and insignificant, and Edison did not obtain any practical benefit from the Anti-SLAPP Motion. (Opp'n 7-9.) Here, Wagner insists that the exclusion of the statements to workers' compensation did not have any practical benefit since the jury heard the same statements that were presented to human resources and awarded Wagner $300. (See Opp'n 8-9.) Not so.

         Wagner attempted to proceed on two theories of defamation, and through the Anti-SLAPP Motion, Wagner was only allowed to proceed on one theory. This resulted in a jury trial that lasted only four days and eliminated a critical witness, Karen Phillipo (and corresponding exhibits), who Wagner repeatedly attempted to unsuccessfully call at trial. This advanced Edison's litigation posture and negatively affected Wagner's litigation strategy at trial.

         Moreover, although the same statements were made to human resources and the workers' compensation representative, the factual circumstances were different. In one instance, Wagner's immediate supervisor, Michael Diaz, sent an unsolicited letter to human resources, and in the other, the workers' compensation representative reached out to Mr. Diaz to investigate Wagner's workers' compensation claim. (Anti-SLAPP Order 7.) Thus, at trial, the remaining factual allegation that was litigated was the circumstances surrounding the statement made to human resources, not the workers' compensation claim. This also resulted in ...

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