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In September 2006, Massoud Kaabinejadian filed a workers’ compensation claim – based on work-related stress and discrimination – which was ultimately denied because his length of employment was only 177 days and less than the six months required by the Labor Code. (Lab. Code, § 3208.3, subd. (d).) Kathaleen Miller served as opposing counsel, representing Rabobank, his employer, and its workers’ compensation insurer. On behalf of her clients, Miller contended Kaabinejadian was properly terminated for aggression toward coworkers and creating a hostile work environment. Miller served a medical record subpoena on Kaabinejadian’s medical provider seeking information about his alleged injuries. After his claim was denied, Miller also prepared and filed a response to his WCAB petition for reconsideration.

In May 2012, Kaabinejadian filed a civil complaint for abuse of process and breach of privacy against Miller. For the first cause of action, he alleged that Miller’s answer to his petition for reconsideration falsely stated that plaintiff had tried to assault a witness, Cheryl Walker, during the workers’ compensation hearing on May 18, 2011. Plaintiff asserted that Miller had made the statements in the answer to retaliate against him. For the second cause of action, plaintiff alleged that Miller had wrongfully subpoenaed his medical records, again as retaliation.

In July 2012, Miller filed a special motion to strike the civil lawsuit pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, asserting that Miller’s litigation conduct constituted participation in a protected activity and plaintiff could not demonstrate a probability of success because Miller’s conduct was subject to the litigation privilege afforded by Civil Code section 47 (“section 47”).

Miller submitted a declaration, describing the facts of her representation during the workers’ compensation proceeding – including that she had subpoenaed medical records from plaintiff’s treating physician and that she had witnessed plaintiff try to assault Walker, the human resources director for Rabobank. In her answer to plaintiff’s petition, Miller stated that plaintiff had demonstrated “anger and aggressive behavior” at the workers’ compensation hearing: “Following the conclusion of testimony by Cheryl Walker . . . the applicant sprang to his feet and attempted to assault the witness. But for the actions of Mr. Miguel Martinez (Pinkerton Consulting and Investigations) and Mr. Chris Solberg (California Highway Patrol), it appeared he would have physically assaulted Mrs. Walker. She fled the courtroom in tears sheltered by Mr. Martinez, while Officer Solberg confined the applicant to his chair.”

In his opposing declaration, plaintiff described Walker’s purported discriminatory treatment of him. He also set forth an account of the years spent litigating his workers’ compensation claim. He contended that Miller had obstructed his discovery efforts, mishandled his medical records, and interfered with his Independent Medical Examination (IME). Plaintiff made numerous efforts to have Miller held in contempt and sanctioned. Plaintiff vehemently disputed Miller’s account of his purported assault on Walker. He denied he was restrained, confined, admonished or criticized for his behavior at the hearing. The recorded minutes for the hearing contain no mention of the attempted assault. Plaintiff asserted that Officer Solberg was prepared to testify in favor of plaintiff. Plaintiff also described his objections to Miller obtaining the records of his treating physician, Dr. Jeffrey Pearson, and disseminating them to non-medical personnel.

After a hearing, the trial court granted defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion based on a determination that Miller “had met her burden of showing that the activity alleged is protected under section 425.16” and that the litigation privilege (section 47) bars plaintiff’s claims. Kaabinejadian appealed the dismissal which was affirmed by the Court of Appeals in the unpublished case of Kaabinejadian v Miller.

“A SLAPP suit – a strategic lawsuit against public participation – seeks to chill or punish a party’s exercise of constitutional rights to free speech and to petition the government for redress of grievances.” (Rusheen v. Cohen (2006) 37 Cal.4th 1048, 1055.) Section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, allows a party to bring a special motion to strike a meritless SLAPP suit at an early stage of the litigation. (Rusheen, at pp. 1055-1056; Dwight R. v. Christy B. (2013) 212 Cal.App.4th 697, 708-709 (Dwight R.).) The protected activities described in subdivision (e)(2) of section 425.16 include statements or writings made “in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a . . . judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law . . . .”

The activity underlying plaintiff’s complaint is Miller’s conduct as defense attorney in a workers’ compensation case. As such, plaintiff’s complaint is based on acts preparatory to or in anticipation of official proceedings. The Court concluded that “Miller’s actions were lawful and fully protected by the litigation privilege under section 47.”