Anti-SLAPP: When State and Federal Rules Collide

The degree to which California’s anti-SLAPP provisions conflict with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is an issue that has been hotly disputed since California Code of Civil Procedure § 425.16 was enacted in 1992. Recently, the Ninth Circuit held that when California’s anti-SLAPP statute is utilized in federal court, the court will review the motion under different standards depending on the motion’s basis. If the motion is founded on purely legal arguments, then the analysis is made under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 8 and 12; if it is a factual challenge, then the motion must be treated as though it were a motion for summary judgment and discovery must be permitted.

This decision arose from a federal case out of the North District of California. Planned Parenthood sued Center for Medical Progress, alleging that they had used fraudulent means to enter into Planned Parenthood’s conferences and gain meetings with their staff in order to create false and misleading videos, which were then disseminated on the internet. Center for Medical Progress moved for a 12(b)(6) dismissal of Planned Parenthood claims under California’s Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“anti-SLAPP”) statute.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court’s denial of defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion, stating that because the defendants’ anti-SLAPP motion was based on legal deficiencies, plaintiffs were not required to present prima facie evidence supporting their claims. The Court reasoned that requiring a presentation of evidence without accompanying discovery would improperly transform the motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP law into a motion for summary judgment, without providing any of the procedural safeguards that have been firmly established by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Such action would effectively allow the state anti-SLAPP rules to usurp the federal rules.

For purposes of utilizing an anti-SLAPP motion in federal court, an anti-SLAPP motion will be treated as a motion to dismiss when predicated on legal deficiencies, but will be held to the FRCP 56 standard when a motion challenges the factual sufficiency of a claim, in order to afford the parties the benefit of discovery explicitly provided in the FRCP.