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Date: 08-25-2023

Case Style:

Constance Iloh v. Regents of the University of California, et al.

Case Number: 30-2021-01197530

Judge: Nancy E. Zeltzer

Court: Superior Court, Orange County, California

Plaintiff's Attorney: Elvin I. Tabah

Defendant's Attorney: Kelly Aviles and Shila Nathu

Description: Santa Ana, California employment law lawyer represented Plaintiff who sued Defendant seeking a writ of mandate, declaratory relief and injunctive relief.

The Center for Scientific Integrity (CSI) is an organization that reports on academic retractions and accountability.CSI wrote an article about Constance Iloh, a professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), after several academic journals retracted articles Iloh had written due to concerns about possible plagiarism or inaccurate citation references. In a follow-up to that article, CSI sent UCIa records request under the California Public Records Act (CPRA) (Gov. Code, §7920.000 etseq.), requesting Iloh’s postpublication communications with the journals and UCI. Iloh filed a petition for writ of mandate, declaratory relief, and injunctive relief against UCI to prevent disclosure of her communications, and later added CSI as a real party in interest. She then filed a motion for preliminary injunction to prevent disclosure. Meanwhile, CSI filed a motion to strike Iloh’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute(Code Civ. Proc., §425.16(§425.16)).

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The trial court denied that motion on the grounds that Iloh had not established a likelihood of prevailing on the merits. CSI filed a motion to strike Iloh’s petition under the anti-SLAPP (strategic lawsuit against public participation) statute(Code Civ. Proc., §425.16(§425.16)). The trial court denied the motion, finding that although protected activity may have led to the petition, it was not the “basis” for the petition.

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In issuing the CPRA request, CSI was engaging in news gathering so it could report on matters of public interest, such as how a public university funded largely by taxpayer dollars resolves quality or integrity problems in its professors’ publications. CSI was therefore engaged in protected activity when it issued the CPRA request.

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The Legislature enacted the anti-SLAPP statute in 1992 to address “what are commonly known as SLAPP suits (strategic lawsuits against public participation)—litigation of a harassing nature, brought to challenge the exercise of protected free speech rights.”(Fahlen v. Sutter Central Valley Hospitals(2014) 58 Cal.4th 655, 665, fn.3.)The statute authorizes a special motion to strike meritless claims early in the litigation if the claims “aris[e] from any act of that person in furtherance of the person’s right of petition or free speech under the United States Constitution or the California Constitution in connection with a public issue....”(§ 425.16, subd. (b)(1).)The statute is “‘intended to resolve quickly and relatively inexpensively meritless lawsuits that threaten free speech on matters of public interest.’”(Rand Resources, LLC v. City of Carson(2019) 6 Cal.5th 610, 619.)

Outcome: The Center for Scientific Integrity appealed the Trial Court's denial of its motion which was revered by the Court of Appeals

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