A party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute

David Tate, Esq., Royse Law Firm, California (Silicon Valley/Menlo Park Office, with additional offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Orange County), http://rroyselaw.com/

The following is a brief discussion about a new California case in which the court held that a party filing a petition in probate to enforce a no contest clause triggers the anti-SLAPP statute. If you have never been involved in the anti-SLAPP statute, it is a big deal. The case is Urick v. Urick, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Case No. B278257 (October 5, 2017).

Summary. Filing a petition for instructions in probate, claiming that a trustee or beneficiary had triggered a no contest clause by filing her prior petition to reform or modify a trust, is a claim that triggers prong one of the California anti-SLAPP statute Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16, which means that the party seeking to claim and enforce that the no contest clause was triggered must be prepared to satisfy prong two of the anti-SLAPP statute which requires him to sufficiently establish a reasonable possibility of prevailing on the claim that the no contest clause was triggered and violated.

Takeaway. If you bring a claim to enforce a no contest clause based on an opposing party’s prior petition filed in probate, you must be prepared at the time of your filing to establish to the court, based on evidence and declarations, that you have a reasonable possibility of prevailing on your claim that the other party had triggered and violated the no contest clause.

Urick is also interesting for the court’s discussion whether the previously filed petition to reform or modify the trust triggered the no contest clause, including the discussion whether that previously filed petition was filed by the petitioner as a beneficiary of the trust or as the trustee of the trust and whether there was really a distinction that mattered under the facts of the case.

Other thoughts about the anti-SLAPP statute. I have been involved in Cal. Code Civ. Proc. §425.16 motions. It is my opinion that it is a deeply flawed statute except possibly in really obvious and clear situations and in those cases the party who has those defenses has other remedies such as a demurrer, motion to strike, or motion for summary judgment or summary adjudication. The anti-SLAPP statute should be revoked or very significantly amended and limited. To add further injury, the filing of an anti-SLAPP motion automatically stays all discovery unless a motion to allow and compel discovery is brought and the court grants that motion – thus, strategically a party might bring an anti-SLAPP motion simply to see if they can prevail even if their arguments and chances of prevailing are not good – and the statute further provides that if a party prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion they are entitled to attorneys’ fees whereas if a party defeats an anti-SLAPP motion the statute does not provide that they are entitled to recover attorneys’ fees. The anti-SLAPP statute is ripe for abuse or use in situations that might be counter to other public or judicial policies, which the court in Urick appeared to recognize, but as the court noted, nevertheless the statute is still on the books and is applicable unless and until the Legislature does something about the statute.

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