Brown Act and “SLAPP” Rulings
August 18, 2016
A recent ruling from the Second Appellate Court adds to the case law related to “strategic lawsuits against public participation” (a.k.a. SLAPP) and the Brown Act. Last week’s Bulletin also included a story about a court case related to SLAPP and local governments. The information below is about a different case and a different issue.
This case (Cruz v. City of Culver) stems from a question of parking restrictions in a Culver City residential neighborhood with a church. The neighborhood has had limitations on parking for decades in an effort to mitigate the effects of the church attendees’ parking on the local residents. In recent years, the church began requesting changes or a revisiting of the issue. Church representatives asked that the item be placed on a city council agenda, city officials discussed it and agreed to put it on the next agenda, and the neighbors sued. The basis of their suit was that the discussion was not on the agenda where the option to place it on the next agenda was discussed. The City responded to this lawsuit with an anti-SLAPP motion.
The residents claim that their lawsuit should not be subject to anti-SLAPP laws because it is in the public interest to cure the Brown Act violations that they allege occurred. However, the trial court and appellate courts found in favor of the City and agreed that the lawsuit did not constitute a public interest, because “plaintiffs sought personal relief in the form of a halt to any attempts by the church to undo the long-standing parking restrictions.”
The world of Brown Act and SLAPP rulings is complicated. Local agencies know they need to be cautious. In this case, the ruling in favor of the city supports the idea that Brown Act lawsuits may only be brought for public benefit, lest they become classified as SLAPP.