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Hodo v. Cheryl R.

2/19/2004

NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS


California Rules of Court, rule 977(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 977(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 977.


Appellant Robert Hodo, a music teacher at Ramona High School, sued Ramona High School student Rachel R., her mother Cheryl R., Ramona High School student Melissa M., and her parents Lezlie M. and William M. (collectively Respondents); Hansen Publishing, LLC and Keith Hansen, publishers of the Ramona Sentinel (Sentinel); reporter Wendy McCaffrey; and Ramona High School students and parents of Ramona High School students (collectively defendants) for libel, slander, invasion of privacy, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and civil conspiracy, stemming from allegedly false statements accusing Hodo of sexually harassing female students. Defendants moved to strike Hodo's complaint under Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16 (commonly referred to as the anti-SLAPP statute), asserting the lawsuit arose from their exercise of their rights of petition and free speech in connection with a public issue. The trial court denied Hodo's motion to conduct discovery, granted defendants' motions to strike, entered judgment in favor of defendants, and awarded attorney fees. After filing this appeal, Hodo settled with all defendants except Respondents.


In this appeal, Hodo contends (1) the court abused its discretion by denying his motion to conduct discovery; (2) Respondents failed to show the action arose from protected speech; (3) Hodo established a probability of prevailing on the merits; and (4) the fees awarded were greater than permitted by section 425.16. We affirm.


FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND


Hodo taught choral music classes in Ramona High School and Olive Peirce Middle School and ran various high school choral groups, including the Encore show choir (show choir). In the operative first amended complaint, Hodo alleges defendants published false stories about him, including the following incidents: he touched a female student's buttocks; he made inappropriate comments about the size of students' breasts and buttocks, often in front of the class; he watched girls change into their show choir uniforms; and he looked down the back of a student's dress. The student and parent defendants discussed these false statements among themselves; filed false reports with the school authorities, the San Diego County Sheriff's Department (sheriff's department), Child Protective Services, the office of County Supervisor Dianne Jacobs; and contacted various newspapers, including the Sentinel, which published these false stories. Defendants circulated these false stories so Hodo would lose his position as choir director at Ramona High School. Specifically, Cheryl spread these false stories because she wanted show choir parts chosen by an independent panel instead of Hodo. Lezlie and William spread these false stories because Hodo punished Melissa for her behavior during a show choir cruise.


Respondents and the other defendants filed separate motions to strike under section 425.16. They argued their statements fell within the statute because their complaints to the school board and other authorities are the basis of official investigations by officials and other statements concern a matter of public interest - the sexual misconduct of a public school teacher. Respondents further argued Hodo could not show a probability of success on the merits because their speech was protected by the privileges contained in Civil Code section

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