Stenehjem v. Sareen, 2014 WL 2646729 (Cal. Ct. App. 2014)

Jerome Stenehjem sued his former employer and its president and CEO, Surya Sareen, for defamation, among other things. In response, Sareen filed a cross-complaint for civil extortion, alleging, among other things, that while representing himself, Stenehjem made a written threat by email to file a false criminal complaint against Sareen unless he paid Stenehjem money to settle the defamation claim. Stenehjem filed a motion to dismiss Sareen’s cross-complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute (Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 425.16) on the ground the alleged extortionate statement was protected speech within the meaning of the anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court granted the motion to dismiss, but the Court of Appeal reversed, holding Stenehjem’s prelitigation email demand constituted extortion as a matter of law and was not protected speech.