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Hicks v. Richard

California Court of Appeals, Fourth District, First Division

September 17, 2019

ALAN HICKS, Plaintiff and Respondent,
v.
DAMIAN RICHARD, Defendant and Appellant.

          APPEAL 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.

          Greene & Roberts, Maria C. Roberts, Michael W. Healy; Niddrie Addams Fuller Singh and Rupa G. Singh for Defendant and Appellant.

          LA Superlawyers and William W. Bloch for Plaintiff and Respondent.

          McCONNELL, P. J.

         I

         INTRODUCTION

         Damian 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.[1]

         Richard 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).

         II

         BACKGROUND

         A

         1

         Hicks 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.

         According 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.

         At a 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.

         Later 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.

         In the 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.

         The 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.

         Second, 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.

         As 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 ...


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