SLAPP plaintiffs not entitled leave to amend complaint in order to remove references to protected speech

A trial court erred in granting the plaintiffs in a SLAPP case leave to amend their complaint so as to remove all references to protected speech. In this case, a nursing organization brought suit against the medical director of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation center, alleging that the medical director made false statements to the California Nursing Board about one of the nurses in the organization and that these statements resulted in the Board taking disciplinary action against the nurse. The defendant filed an anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court granted, finding that the defendant’s statements were absolutely privileged under Civil Code section 47(b), and that the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a probability of success as to any of their causes of action. However, the trial court also found that the complaint contained causes of action that arose from both protected and nonprotected activity, and granted the plaintiffs leave to amend the complaint to allege causes of action “other than and not intertwined with the prior allegations of false reports” to the Board. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint that made no mention of the defendant’s statements to the Board. The defendant then filed another anti-SLAPP motion, which the trial court denied. The Fourth Appellate District reversed the denial of the motion and remanded to the superior court with orders to grant the defendant’s original anti-SLAPP motion without qualification, holding that there was no basis for the trial court to grant leave to amend. The appellate court found that all allegations in the original complaint arose from protected activity, since all were based on the defendant’s protected statements to the Board, and that in granting leave to amend, the trial court had allowed the plaintiffs “to plead around the protected speech alleged in the original complaint.” [Mobile Medical Services for Physicians and Advanced Practice Nurses, Inc. v. Rajaram, (Cal. Ct. App. 2015) 14 C.D.O.S. 11223]

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