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February 4, 2010

Daniels v. Robbins – California Court of Appeal, Fourth District Case No. G039984 (February 24, 2010)

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The Fourth District holds that dismissal as a discovery sanction can constitute a “favorable termination” for malicious prosecution purposes. 

In Daniels v. Robbins, the Fourth District California Court of Appeal affirmed a judgment dismissing a malicious prosecution suit.  While the Court found the plaintiff’s evidence of malice lacking, it also noted that the dismissal of the underlying lawsuit as a discovery sanction could constitute a “favorable termination” for malicious prosecution purposes.

Young sued Daniels for slander and other causes of action.  Young failed to comply with discovery orders and the trial Court granted a motion to dismiss.  Daniels then sued Young and Young’s attorneys for malicious prosecution, and the attorneys filed an anti-SLAPP motion pursuant to Code of Civil Procedure §425.16.  The trial court granted the motion, finding that Daniels had failed to establish a probability that she would prevail on her malicious prosecution claim.

While the Court of Appeal upheld the dismissal of Daniels’ case, it disagreed with the trial court on whether she had made a prima facie showing that the underlying slander action had been terminated in her favor.  The appellate court noted that Daniels had shown both the dismissal as a discovery sanction and that the judgment in the underlying action reflected on the merits of the case brought against her.  In reaching its conclusion, the Court disagreed with Zeavin v. Lee (1982) 136 Cal.App.3d 766, in which the Court “found it inconceivable” that an attorney could be held liable for a client’s intransigence in discovery.  The Daniels court observed that, where the attorney has no probable cause for filing suit and the attorney shares the client’s malice against the defendant, malicious prosecution can attach to both the attorney and client, even if the case ended due to discovery sanctions.

 

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