“We decline to infer Dowling’s concurrence in his clients’ acts from the mere existence of their attorney-client relationship. Contreras cites no authority holding that an attorney-client relationship is evidence of a conspiracy between the attorney and client, and our own research discloses none. Moreover, we share Dowling’s expressed concern about the implications of such a holding. He contends there will be a chilling effect on attorneys if their communicative acts can be placed outside the protection of section 425.16 by the unadorned allegation that they conspired in their clients’ torts. Contreras airily dismisses this concern, arguing ‘any chilling effect that conclusion may have on conspiracies between lawyers and their clients must be counted an unalloyed benefit.’ We are not so sanguine. ‘The fears of chilled speech and hindered justice are too much a part of our case law to be disregarded as unproved.’ . . . We refuse Contreras’s invitation to infer an attorney-client conspiracy from the mere existence of an attorney-client relationship.”
California’s Anti-SLAPP Law (Cal. Code Civ. Proc., §425.16) is designed to question, at an early stage of litigation, whether certain claims that arise from a defendant’s petitioning conduct has sufficient, minimal merit to proceed. If not, the defendant may use a special motion to strike to eliminate certain claims that the plaintiff cannot prevail on.
“Petitioning conduct” can refer to a fairly wide-range of a defendant’s exercises of free speech rights. When that defendant is also an attorney, and the conduct is closely connected with her provision of legal advise in the context of an attorney-client relationship, this activity should fall squarely within the ambit of the anti-SLAPP statute.
Nonetheless, the landlords in the controversy underlying Contreras v. Dowling engaged in activity that allegedly constituted wrongful eviction. And, because they had counsel at the time of the alleged tort, the tenant sued the landlords for the wrongful eviction and sued the attorney, Dowling, for “conspiracy” to commit the tort.