Kulick v. Leisure Village (2018). The association's attorney prepared distributed a letter to the membership responding to Kulick's newsletter. The attorney's letter described Kulick's newsletter as a "reckless communication" that contained "unfounded, inaccurate and spiteful allegations." The letter denied that any board member was a cheat or a liar or that the association attorneys had engaged in unlawful conduct during the litigation. The letter also explained the association's position in the litigation and its success in obtaining a preliminary injunction against Kulick. Kulick sued for defamation. Court ruled the attorney's letter was protected.
Lee v. Silveira (2016). As frequently happens, there are winners and losers when a board votes on an issue. Normally, the vote is recorded in the minutes and the board moves to the next agenda item. In this case, the losers wouldn't let go of an issue. Here, a 9-member board voted six to three to renew a contract with the association's management company. Three directors who voted against the contract sued the six directors who voted in favor. The association's attorneys moved to dismiss the action with an anti-SLAPP motion. The court of appeal agreed and ruled that a director’s vote at a board meeting constitutes a protected activity under the anti-SLAPP statute.
Cabrera v. Alam (2011) 197 Cal.App.4th 1077. This case involved alleged defamation during an election campaign. Prior board president Veronica Cabrera accused board member Mohammed Alam (who was running for reelection) of mismanagement of the association’s finances. In response, Alam accused Cabrera (who was campaigning for Alam’s opponent) of defrauding the association and stealing money. Cabrera sued for defamation. Alam filed an anti-SLAPP motion which was denied. The Court of Appeal reversed. The Court held that HOA meetings constitute a “public forum” in the development and the statements against her were an issue of interest to the membership. Moreover, Cabrera was a “public figure” in her association because she had voluntarily injected herself into the election. Because she was a public figures, a higher standard of proof was applied to the alleged defamation, i.e., Cabrera had to show that Alam made the statements knowing they were false and that he made them with malice. The court found that Cabrera failed to produce any evidence to meet that standard. Accordingly, her claim for defamation was dismissed.
Country Side Villa HOA v. Ivie (2011) 193 Cal.App.4th 1110. Members have the right to speak out against the actions of their board of directors and management. In this case, the association’s newly elected board hired a new manager and new legal counsel. Their new attorney advised the board that the association was responsible for the maintenance and repair of balconies and shingle siding, rather than unit homeowners. This was inconsistent with the HOA’s prior practices. Ms. Ivie objected to the new interpretation because not all units had balconies, the HOA had no reserves to pay these new expenses, and board members had a conflict of interest because they benefited from the change. Ivie circulated a petition to recall the new board and was sued by the board. The court granted Ivie’s anti-SLAPP motion. The board appealed. The Court of Appeals found that Ms. Ivie's criticism and petition to recall the board is a protected free speech and granting her anti-SLAPP motion was proper under Code Civ. Proc. §425.16.
Damon v. Ocean Hills Journalism Club (2000) 85 Cal.App.4th 468. Homeowners were displeased with Damon's management style and expressed their views in articles, editorials, and letters to the editor in the Village Voice newsletter, which was published by a private homeowners club (Journalism Club). Homeowners criticized Damon's competency to manage the Association and urged residents to replace Damon with a professional management company. Damon sued for defamation and lost. The court determined that the newsletter was a public forum for communicating a message about public matters to a large and interested community. each of the alleged defamatory statements concerned (1) the decision whether to continue to be self-governed or to switch to a professional management company; and/or (2) Damon's competency to manage the Association. These statements pertained to issues of public interest within the Ocean Hills community. The right to speak on political matters is the quintessential subject of our constitutional protections of the right of free speech. Public discussion about the qualifications of those who hold or who wish to hold positions of public trust presents the strongest possible case for applications of the safeguards afforded by the First Amendment.
Haley v. Casa Del Rey Homeowners Association (2007) 153 Cal.App.4th 863. Among other causes of action, Haley sued for slander when a homeowner allegedly published to a third party that Haley was having sex with her son and was having group sex. At trial, Haley was "nonsuited" on the defamation claim. She appealed and lost. Haley failed to show that publication of the alleged defamatory remarks were to anyone other than the person defamed or that the remarks were intentionally or negligently made to a third party.
Healy v. Tuscany Hills Landscape & Recreation Corp. (2006) 137 Cal.App.4th 1. Gloria Healy sued Tuscany Hills claiming the association had defamed her when it informed the membership that her refusal to allow access through her property for weed abatement resulted in increased costs to the Association. Healy alleged she suffered loss of reputation, shame, mortification and hurt feelings in the amount of $250,000. Healy won at the trial level. The Court of Appeals reversed the lower court's decision. The Court determined that the allegedly defamatory statements came within what is known as the "litigation privilege." The litigation privilege is a type of immunity given to statements connected to litigation. The protections are found in Civil Code §47(b) and Code Civ. Proc. §425.16.
Ruiz v. Harbor View Community Assn. (2005) 134 Cal.App.4th 1456. The association's attorney sent letters to an owner accusing the homeowner of stalking and harassing board members. The owner sued claiming defamation and lost. When the letters were written, the parties were involved in ongoing disputes over approval of Plaintiffs' architectural plans and Plaintiffs' demands for information and documents. Those disputes were of interest to members of the association because they would be affected by the outcome of those disputes. The letters were written in the context of the disputes between Plaintiffs and the association, were part of the ongoing discussion over those disputes, and "contributed to the public debate" and were, therefore, protected speech.
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