Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz v. Maura Larkins

NOTE: The information and commentary contained in this database entry are based on court filings and other informational sources that may contain unproven allegations made by the parties. The truthfulness and accuracy of such information is likely to be in dispute. Information contained in this entry is current as of the last event mentioned in the "Description" section below; additional proceedings might have taken place in this matter since this event.

Summary

Threat Type: 

Lawsuit

Date: 

10/05/2007

Status: 

Pending

Location: 

California

Verdict or Settlement Amount: 

N/A
On October 5, 2007, the Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz (SASH) law firm sued Maura Larkins in San Diego Superior Court for defamation in relation to comments she made about the firm on her website, the San Diego Education Report.... read full description
Parties

Party Receiving Legal Threat: 

Maura Larkins; Does 1-100

Type of Party: 

Organization

Type of Party: 

Individual

Location of Party: 

  • California
  • Nevada

Location of Party: 

  • California

Legal Counsel: 

Pro se
Description

On October 5, 2007, the Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz (SASH) law firm sued Maura Larkins in San Diego Superior Court for defamation in relation to comments she made about the firm on her website, the San Diego Education Report.

In 2005, Larkins had sued the Chula Vista Elementary School District and a group of individuals associated with the school. Lawyers from SASH represented the defendants in that suit, which was dismissed.

According to SASH's defamation complaint against Larkins, in late 2006 it became aware that Larkins had posted negative comments about the firm on her website, bringing into question the professional and ethical standards of SASH and its attorneys. According to SASH's complaint, comments on Larkins' website implied that the firm had been sanctioned by a federal judge for misstatements of fact and law and accused the firm of making frivolous objections in proceedings, harassing plaintiffs, and obstructing the administration of California education laws. Several SASH lawyers were referred to by name in the allegedly defamatory statements.

On August 6, 2007, SASH sent Larkins a cease and desist letter (see related CMLP entry on the letter threat). Larkins refused to remove the comments and SASH filed a complaint on October 5, 2007, alleging defamation per se and seeking general, special, and punitive damages. Even though SASH's letter threatened to seek a permanent injunction, plaintiff does not pray for this relief in its complaint.

Larkins filed an answer on November 16, 2007, admitting that she herself posted the comments on her website, but asserting that the statements were protected under constitutional privilege (on the basis that SASH lawyers were in the public eye and acting as de facto public officials, and also on the basis that comments related to an issue of public concern), and the defenses of truth and fair comment. She also denies that her comments have caused damage to SASH.

On November 19, 2007, Larkin filed a petition for removal with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. Plaintiffs filed a motion to remand on January 4, 2008, arguing that the court lacks diversity jurisdiction.

Update:

3/3/2008 - The U.S. District Court granted plaintiffs' motion and remanded the case to CA state superior court.

02/20/2009 - The trial court granted SASH's motion for summary judgment, and stated that the case could continue to determine damages and injunctive relief.

4/6/2009 - The parties settled the lawsuit. As part of the settlement, the trial court entered a permanent injunction that prevents Larkins from "continuing to publish or republishing" any of the statements at issue in the lawsuit.

7/2009 - SASH filed a motion to enforce the injunction claiming that statements on Larkins's website violated the court order.

8/7/2009 - After oral argument, the trial court granted SASH's motion to enforce the injunction. Finding that Larkins's website contained statements that violated the injunction, the court ordered her to remove those statements within 48 hours.

10/30/2009 - The trial court held a hearing to consider another SASH motion -- that the court strike Larkins's previous answer, and enter a default, because she continued to publish statements in violation of the injunction. At the hearing, the court stated that Larkins was "attempt[ing] to circumvent the Court's order" by altering the wording of her website.

12/11/2009 - The trial court modified the injunction, based on the 10/30 hearing. The modified order enjoins Larkins from publishing "any statements pertaining to [SASH] and any of its lawyers, past or present," and orders her to remove all mentions of SASH from her website within 20 days.

3/10/2010 - After SASH filed an ex parte application to enforce the new injunction, the trial court held Larkins in contempt. The court ordered her to pay $3,000, and stated that she was "currently in violation of the Court's further order of December 11, 2009."

3/18/2010 - Larkins appealed the 12/11 order to the California Court of Appeal (Fourth Appellate District).

8/5/2011 - The California Court of Appeal ruled that the modified permanent injunction -- which prevented Larkins "from making any mention of [SASH] or any of its attorneys, past or present" -- violated her free speech right "under both the federal and state Constitutions." SASH did not dispute that the modified injunction was a prior restraint, and the court ruled that SASH failed to carry its "heavy burden" of showing that the order was constitutionally valid.

The appeals court remanded, stating that the trial court may consider other methods to compel Larkins's compliance with the earlier injunctions.

Details

Content Type: 

  • Text

Publication Medium: 

Website

Subject Area: 

  • Defamation
Court Information & Documents

Jurisdiction: 

  • California

Source of Law: 

  • California

Court Name: 

San Diego Superior Court; United States District Court for the Southern District of California

Court Type: 

Federal
State

Case Number: 

37-2007-00076218-CU-DF-CTL; 3:07-cv-02202

Relevant Documents: 

CMLP Information (Private)

CMLP Notes: 

User submitted via threat form.

Status checked on 6/9/2008, no new information. (AAB)