In Simpson Strong-Tie Co. Inc. v. Gore, California Supreme Court strengthens protections surrounding attorney speech

The California Supreme Court, in Simpson Strong-Tie Co. Inc. v. Gore (May 17, 2010) explicitly examined the narrow issue of the scope of the commercial speech exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute.  (See Code Civ. Proc., §§ 425.16, 425.17, subd. (c).)  Indirectly, the opinion concerns the scope of protection available to attorney communications directed at potential clients, class members or witnesses.  The issue arose when, in February 2006, plaintiff Simpson Strong-Tie Company, Inc. (Simpson) filed an action for defamation and related claims against defendants Pierce Gore and The Gore Law Firm after publication of a newspaper advertisement placed by Gore a few weeks earlier. The advertisement, directed to owners of wood decks constructed after January 1, 2004, advised readers that “you may have certain legal rights and be entitled to monetary compensation, and repair or replacement of your deck” if the deck was built with galvanized screws manufactured by Simpson or other specified entities, and invited those persons to contact Gore “if you would like an attorney to investigate whether you have a potential claim.”

Gore moved successfully in the superior court to have the entire complaint by Simpson stricken under section 425.16, the anti-SLAPP statute, and the Court of Appeal affirmed.  The Supreme Court affirmed as well, though limiting its review exclusively to the applicability of the commercial speech exemption to the anti-SLAPP statute set forth in section 425.17(c)(1).

The ruling offers additional protection to law firms prosecuting class actions.  A defendant will have little recourse against an advertisement that is crafted to satisfy the analysis supplied in this decision.