California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division
from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Ct.
No. 37-2018-00005119- CU-DF-CTL Ronald L. Styn, Judge.
Reversed and remanded with directions.
& Roberts, Maria C. Roberts, Michael W. Healy; Niddrie
Addams Fuller Singh and Rupa G. Singh for Defendant and
Superlawyers and William W. Bloch for Plaintiff and
McCONNELL, P. J.
Richard appeals from an order denying in part his special
motion to strike Alan Hicks's complaint for defamation
and intentional infliction of emotional distress. The
complaint arose from Richard's role in prompting the
Diocese of San Diego (Diocese) to remove Hicks from his
school principal position.
contends we must reverse the part of the court's order
denying his anti-SLAPP motion because, among other reasons,
the court erred in deciding the common interest privilege did
not apply to bar Hicks's claims. We agree with this
contention. Accordingly, we reverse the order and remand the
matter to the court with directions to vacate the order, to
enter a new order granting the motion and striking
Hicks's complaint, and to determine the amount of
attorney fees and costs to award Richard under section
425.16, subdivision (c)(1).
was a principal of a Catholic elementary and middle school.
Richard was the husband of one the school's teachers and
a parent of children who attended the school.
to Richard, Hicks asked Richard to serve on the school's
advisory board for the 2015-2016 school year. At an advisory
board meeting in the fall of that school year, Hicks informed
the advisory board he wanted to allow the producers of a
television show to film the show on the school's campus.
Richard expressed his belief the school should not be
affiliated with the show because the show was intended for
mature audiences due to its sexual nature and conduct.
fundraiser in the spring of that same school year, Hicks
revisited the topic with Richard. During their discussion,
Hicks said he had previously permitted a motorcycle
dealership to use the school's campus for a photoshoot
and had received complaints because of the pornographic
nature of the photographs taken.
in the summer, Hicks asked Richard to serve as the chair of
the advisory board for the 2016-2017 school year and Richard
accepted the post. In that role and during that school year,
Richard received complaints from parents, teachers, and other
board members about Hicks. The complaints included concerns
about Hicks's poor leadership, mismanagement of the
school, frequent inappropriate comments to and about students
and female staff, and advocacy for a curriculum Richard and
other parents did not believe was in the best interest of the
students or the school.
winter of the 2016-2017 school year, the advisory board
investigated the complaints, which were corroborated by
employees and parents. Richard and the other parents,
referring to themselves as "Members of the 2016-2017
Advisory Board," sent a letter and a chart discussing
the information they received to the bishop of the Diocese,
the Diocese's director for schools, and a bishop with the
Archdiocese of Los Angeles who was also the president of one
of the school's accrediting organizations.
letter faulted Hicks in four areas. First, the letter stated
Hicks was not following the protocols of the school's
accrediting organizations. Specifically, the letter stated in
the spring of 2016, during a post-accreditation meeting of
the school's advisory board, Hicks repeatedly refused to
disclose the accrediting organizations' report. Hicks
also had not convened another advisory board meeting in the
subsequent 10 months, contrary to the collaborative approach
recommended by and promised to the accrediting organizations.
the letter alleged Hicks made inappropriate comments, created
a hostile work environment, and exercised poor judgment. As
examples of making inappropriate comments and creating a
hostile work environment, the letter stated Hicks
"recently made the following statements in the presence
of female faculty members at the School, and in some
instances, either in front of children or toward children:
'she's like a dog;' 'nice legs;'
'look at her hips;' 'I don't give a
shit;' 'he looks like [a] pervert (directed at an
elementary student);' 'you are too fat to be a model
(directed at a middle school girl),' and 'it is a
shame you are having a girl (stated twice, directed at a
pregnant staff member, and stated in the presence of female
School employees).'" The letter also stated Hicks
had commented on a female teacher's breast size in the
presence of another teacher and had stated his hiring
philosophy consisted of hiring attractive female teachers.
examples of exercising poor judgment, Hicks purportedly
required a group of middle school boys to receive a period of
instruction from him on the topic of masturbation without
first notifying and obtaining parental approval. He also
discharged a physical education teacher because she refused
to act more submissive to ...