Cease and Desist Letter Gets SLAPP Protection

Here's the way the court put it:

An employer fired one of its employees amid allegations that the employee had misappropriated customer lists and solicited his employer’s customers to start a
competing business. Several months before litigation was commenced by the employer against its former employee, the employer’s attorney drafted a letter to the employer’s customers that accused the employee of breach of contract and
misappropriation of trade secrets, and that “suggest[ed]” to the customers that, to avoid potential involvement in any ensuing litigation “as a material witness, or otherwise,” the customers should not do business with the former employee. The employee commenced a defamation action against the former employer. We hold that, in the circumstances of this case, the lawyer’s letter to the customers was a “writing made in connection with an issue under consideration or review by a . . . judicial body” (§ 425.16, subd. (e)(2)) and therefore covered by the anti-SLAPP statute because the letter directly related to the employer’s claims against the employee, and the employer was seriously and in good faith contemplating litigation against the employee.
Of note, the court also ruled that it made no difference that the lawyer sent the letter to its customers rather than just the former employee. The court also said that the litigation privilege was irrelevant to whether the communication satisfied the requirements of the anti-SLAPP statute. However, the litigation privilege would be relevant to the second prong of anti-SLAPP analysis - the plaintiff's chance of success on the merits.

This case is good news for practitioners who send out "cease and desist" letters to former employees accused of violating restrictive covenants. It's also good news for employers, as they could have found it harder to find lawyers to send out such letters if the former employee could freely sue for defamation.

The case is Neville v. Chudacoff. The opinion is here.