Court rules law firm's suit against Chuck Yeager, wife does not meet anti-SLAPP criteria

By Charmaine Little | May 29, 2018

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A law firm and lawyers who briefly represented a record-setting test pilot and his wife were denied motion to strike a suit on anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) grounds, according to a May 16 opinion in the court of appeal of the 3rd Appellate District of California.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Legal Newsline) – A law firm and lawyers who briefly represented a record-setting test pilot and his wife were denied motion to strike a suit on anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) grounds, according to a May 16 opinion in the court of appeal of the 3rd Appellate District of California.

Peter Holt, Holt Law Firm and Bethany Holt (collectively, Holt) submitted an appeal from a judgment that denied their special motion to strike after they were sued by former clients Charles E. and Victoria Yeager. Charles Yeager, better known as Chuck, is the "decorated World War II combat ace and Cold War test pilot," the court notes.

According to the opinion, the defendants were first plaintiffs when they filed a lawsuit against Victoria Yeager to receive fees. Yeager responded with a lawsuit against Holt, claiming allegations such as negligence and misappropriation of name. Holt subsequently responded and filed a motion to strike.

The appeals court agreed with the Sacramento County Superior Court's decision that “this suit does not chill protected expressive conduct or free speech on an issue of public interest,” according to the opinion.

According to the opinion, the requirements of anti-SLAPP motions are: whether the petitioner has proved the action involves protected speech or conduct, and if so, the court then determines if the opposer fulfills requirements such as probability of prevailing. The appeals court determined Holt didn’t meet the first requirement.

While the appeals court determined the evidence Holt submitted "may show legal and factual infirmities," it’s not enough to protect their anti-SLAPP motion, especially because Victoria Yeager claimed a number of Holt’s allegedly improper actions occurred after the Holt v. Yeager trial already happened.

The appeals court also stated it’s possible Yeager didn’t argue his malpractice and overbilling claims the right way as he might have had a better outcome had he requested mandatory fee arbitration.

The appeals court affirmed the lower court’s decision. It also determined Holt needs to pay the Yeagers' costs they accrued to file the appeal.

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