Search This Blog

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Mendoza v. Hamzeh: Attorney's Extortionate Demand Letter Not Protected Under Anti-SLAPP Statute

From time to time I have reported on employment cases in which attorneys have acted too zealously in representing their clients.  Mendoza v. Hamzeh (4/22/13) --- Cal.App.4th ---, is such a case.  

In 2009, an attorney (Hamzeh) sent a demand letter to an employer (Mendoza) threatening to file suit for unpaid wages and to report the employer to authorities for alleged fraud. In 2011, Mendoza filed suit against Hamzeh for civil extortion, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and violation of the Unfair Competition Law. The trial court denied Hamzeh's anti-SLAPP motion to strike and awarded attorney fees to Mendoza, holding that the demand letter was not a protected communication. The Court of Appeal affirmed, confirming that the demand letter was not protected, and the trial court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorney fees to Mendoza. 
The anti-SLAPP statute does not apply to the threats at issue in Hamzeh's demand letter. Hamzeh threatened to report Mendoza “to the California Attorney General, the Los Angeles District Attorney, the Internal Revenue Service regarding tax fraud, [and] the Better Business Bureau,” and to disclose the alleged wrongdoing to Mendoza's customers and vendors if Mendoza did not pay “damages exceeding $75,000.” Regardless of whether Mendoza committed any crime or wrongdoing or owed Chow money, Hamzeh's threat to report criminal conduct to enforcement agencies and to Mendoza's customers and vendors, coupled with a demand for money, constitutes “criminal extortion as a matter of law,” as articulated in Flatley [v. Mauro (2006) 39 Cal.4th 299, 330]. 
Slip op. at 7.

The opinion is available here

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.