Dickinson v. Cosby, 17 Cal. App. 5th 655 (2017)

After Janice Dickinson went public with her accusations of rape against Bill Cosby, Cosby’s attorney (Martin Singer) reacted with: (1) a letter demanding that media outlets not repeat Dickinson’s allegedly false accusation, under threat of litigation; and (2) a press release characterizing Dickinson’s rape accusation as a lie. Dickinson then brought suit against Cosby for defamation and related causes of action. When Cosby’s submissions indicated that Singer might have issued the statements without first asking Cosby if the rape accusations were true, Dickinson amended her complaint to add Singer as a defendant. Cosby and Singer successfully moved to strike the amended complaint because of the pending anti-SLAPP motion. The trial court then granted in part Cosby’s anti-SLAPP motion, striking Dickinson’s claims arising from the demand letter, and denied it as to her claims arising from the press release.

The Court of Appeal held that the trial court erred in striking the amended complaint because it pertained only to Singer (who had not filed an anti-SLAPP motion). The trial court also erred in granting Cosby’s anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the demand letter (it was sent without a good faith contemplation of litigation seriously considered and contained actionable statements of fact), but the trial court correctly denied Cosby’s anti-SLAPP motion with respect to the press release (it also contained actionable statements of fact). See also Whitehall v. County of San Bernardino, 17 Cal. App. 5th 352 (2017) (employer’s anti-SLAPP motion was properly denied in whistleblower case where governmental immunity and privilege defenses were inapplicable); Behunin v. Superior Court, 9 Cal. App. 5th 833 (2017) (communications between attorney and public relations consultant are not privileged unless they are confidential and reasonably necessary to accomplish the purpose for which the client consulted the attorney).