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California Supreme Court Clarifies Deadline to File Anti-SLAPP Motions in Light of Amended Pleadings

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By: Tony Carucci

California’s “anti-SLAPP” (“SLAPP” is an acronym for strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute—codified at California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 et seq.—is the primary vehicle for defending against any action involving petitioning or free speech. The statute was designed to provide an early and fast summary judgment-like procedure to allow defendants and cross-defendants to file a motion to dismiss either an entire complaint, specific causes of action, or even just portions of a cause of action, and to require the plaintiff to respond before conducting discovery. By facilitating an early challenge to a plaintiff or cross-complainant’s claims, the anti-SLAPP statute allows the responding party to avoid the costs and delay that chill the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.

Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16(f), an anti-SLAPP motion must be filed “within 60 days of the service of the complaint . . . .” But what if the plaintiff files an ameded complaint? In Newport Harbor Ventures, LLC v. Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (2018) 4 Cal.5th 637, the California Supreme Court held that the 60-day timeline runs from the date a complaint is filed with the cause(s) of action challenged in the anti-SLAPP motion.

The practical import of the court’s holding is that a defendant may not file an anti-SLAPP motion in response to an amended complaint on causes of action included in the original complaint if the motion is filed more than 60 days after the original complaint was filed. Id. at 643–45. The court reasoned that the anti-SLAPP statute “provides a means for the prompt and relatively inexpensive resolution of lawsuits that threaten free speech,” but is also designed in a manner to prevent the abuse that delayed anti-SLAPP motions might entail. Id. at 639, 645. To strike a balance between the purpose of the statute and its possible abuse, the court concluded that “a defendant must move to strike a cause of action within 60 days of service of the earliest complaint that contains that cause of action.” Id. at 639–40.