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3 min read

A special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP statute


Introduction: Allegations of False Advertising in the 'Yesterday' Case

In the case between Conor Woulfe and Universal City Studios LLC, allegations of false advertising, fraud, and misrepresentation concerning the movie 'Yesterday' are being examined in the United States District Court, C.D. California. Conor Woulfe and Rosza serve as the plaintiffs, while Universal City Studios LLC is the defendant.

Plaintiffs' Claims Highlight Concerns about False Advertising

The plaintiffs claim that they rented the movie 'Yesterday' on after watching a trailer that included a scene not present in the final movie. They argue that if they had known about the missing scene, they would not have chosen to rent the movie, highlighting concerns about false advertising.

The plaintiffs have brought forward seven claims against the defendant, including violations of the California Unfair Competition Law, California False Advertising Law, and California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, all of which are essential for consumer protection.

Defendant's Response and Motion to Dismiss

The defendant responded by filing a motion to dismiss and a special motion to strike under the California anti-SLAPP statute. 

The California anti-SLAPP statute is a legal provision that protects individuals and organizations from meritless lawsuits intended to stifle free speech by allowing defendants to file a special motion to strike claims based on protected speech or petitioning activities.

The court granted the motion to dismiss in part and denied it in part. This led to a discussion surrounding the application of California's anti-SLAPP statute to the case, which is significant in cases involving false advertising.

The court considered the movie trailer as an "act in furtherance of the right to free speech" but also linked it to an issue of public interest. It then evaluated the likelihood of success on the plaintiffs' claims, including the alleged false advertising, fraud, and misrepresentation.

The Application of California's Anti-SLAPP Statute

In analyzing claims under the California Unfair Competition Law, California False Advertising Law, and California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the court took into account the "reasonable consumer standard." It determined that the plaintiffs had plausibly alleged that a substantial portion of the general consuming public could be misled by the trailer, emphasizing the importance of protecting consumers from deceptive advertising practices.

The plaintiffs' focus was on a specific representation made by Universal in the trailer, promising a scene featuring De Armas and the Segment that was not delivered in the movie. The court recognized this representation as "a specific measurable claim, capable of being proved false or of being reasonably interpreted as a statement of objective fact," reinforcing the severity of false advertising allegations.

Universal argued against the plaintiffs' claims, contending that the trailer did not explicitly make statements about De Armas' appearance and that she only appeared briefly. However, the court did not dismiss the misrepresentation claims as implausible based on the allegations, maintaining its commitment to preventing deceptive advertising.

Universal also expressed concerns about the floodgates opening to similar claims if the plaintiffs' theory were to proceed. However, the court remained unconvinced by this argument, emphasizing the significance of addressing false advertising and protecting consumers' rights.

Dismissal of Claims and Legal Requirements in Pursuing False Advertising Claims

As the court proceeded, it dismissed the plaintiffs' claims under the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act and breach of warranties as a matter of law, highlighting the importance of specific legal requirements in pursuing false advertising claims. It evaluated the plaintiffs' Unfair Competition Law claim, acknowledging the possibility of establishing a violation based on other aspects of the Unfair Competition Law and False Advertising Law.

The court also addressed the plaintiffs' Lanham Act claim, concluding that they had not presented sufficient evidence to establish a likelihood of injury, emphasizing the importance of demonstrating harm caused by false advertising. Additionally, the court assessed the plaintiffs' ability to establish liability under Section 1572 but found that they had not alleged any contractual or precontractual relationship with the defendant, underscoring the need for a legal basis to pursue false advertising litigation.

Regarding the California Consumers Legal Remedies Act, the court determined that the plaintiffs could not establish a violation since their purchase of a limited-time license to stream 'Yesterday' did not fall under the category of goods or services covered by the act, highlighting the relevance of the specific legal framework in consumer protection cases.

The court further examined the plaintiffs' warranty claims and dismissed them, as the plaintiffs had not alleged a transaction of consumer goods that would invoke express or implied warranties. This highlights the requirement for a valid legal claim when seeking remedies for false advertising.

The plaintiffs were found to lack standing to seek injunctive relief due to their inability to establish an actual or imminent injury. This emphasizes the importance of demonstrating harm and a direct connection to the false advertising allegations in pursuing legal action.

Addressing Universal's First Amendment Defense

Universal raised a First Amendment defense, arguing that the trailer constituted creative expressive work and that liability would interfere with editorial choice. However, the court rejected this defense, categorizing the trailer as commercial speech that did not receive full First Amendment protection. This decision underscores the court's commitment to holding advertisers accountable for false advertising practices.

Applying the Bolger factors, which assess whether speech is commercial, the court determined that the trailer, as an advertisement for the movie that referred to a specific product and had economic motivation, qualified as commercial speech. The court dismissed Universal's argument about non-commercial speech intertwined with the trailer, further reinforcing the importance of maintaining truthfulness and transparency in advertising.

Conclusion: The Significance of the 'Yesterday' Case for Consumer Protection

Overall, the court granted the motion to dismiss certain claims while denying others, underscoring the complex nature of false advertising litigation and the need for a comprehensive evaluation of each claim based on relevant laws and regulations. The case between Conor Woulfe and Universal City Studios LLC serves as an important example of addressing false advertising allegations in the pursuit of consumer protection.