OF CERTIORARI TO THE COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH CIRCUIT, PARISH
granted the writ application to determine whether the court
of appeal erred in reversing the trial court's ruling
granting the plaintiff's special motion to strike
defendant's reconventional demand for defamation,
pursuant to La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971, the so-called
anti-SLAPP statute, where the appellate court found that
plaintiff's petition did not involve a "public
issue." For the reasons expressed below, we find the
court of appeal was correct in reversing the trial
court's ruling. We hold that La. Code Civ. Pro. art.
971(F)(1)(a), which states that "[a]ny written or oral
statement or writing made before a legislative, executive, or
judicial body" is an "[a]ct in furtherance of a
person's right of petition or free speech … in
connection with a public issue, " must nonetheless
satisfy the requirement of La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971(A)(1),
that such statements be made "in connection with a
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Shelton, M.D. (hereinafter "Dr. Shelton") married
Judith Shelton (hereinafter "Mrs. Shelton") in
2001. During their marriage, the couple each owned a life
insurance policy that named the other as the beneficiary. At
some point, Mrs. Shelton was diagnosed with cirrhosis of the
liver and Hepatorenal Syndrome (rapid deterioration of
kidneys) as a result of alcoholism. In July 2011, Mrs.
Shelton was admitted to Ochsner Baptist Medical Center for
treatment and was soon discharged to Woldenberg Village, an
inpatient assisted living facility. Mrs. Shelton died on
December 31, 2011, at the age of 64.
Mrs. Shelton's death, Dr. Shelton learned that, in July
2011, she had changed her beneficiary to her personal
assistant/paralegal/friend, Nancy Pavon. In November 2013,
Dr. Shelton filed a Petition to Nullify Change of
Beneficiary. He alleged Mrs. Shelton had lacked the capacity
to execute a change of beneficiary form due to her poor
health, including dementia, confusion, disorientation, and
personality changes. Alternatively, he alleged Mrs.
Shelton's signature on the change of beneficiary form was
a forgery or had been obtained through undue influence by Ms.
response, Ms. Pavon filed an answer and reconventional demand
alleging Dr. Shelton's petition constituted defamation
per se. In response, Dr. Shelton filed a Special
Motion to Strike pursuant to La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971. Ms.
Pavon opposed the motion to strike, arguing that it should be
dismissed as a matter of law because Dr. Shelton's
petition to nullify did not involve a public issue. She also
argued that a motion to strike was not the proper mechanism
to dismiss her defamation claim.
hearing and taking the matter under advisement, the trial
court granted Dr. Shelton's special motion to strike. The
trial court reasoned that, under La. Code Civ. Pro. art.
971(A)(1), the moving party must first satisfy the burden of
proof that the "cause of action against [the moving
party] arise[s] from any act of that person in furtherance of
his right of petition or free speech under the United States
or Louisiana Constitution in connection with a public
issue…." Thus, the trial court noted it must
first consider whether Dr. Shelton's action, that is, the
petition to nullify change of beneficiary, arises from an act
in the exercise of his right of petition or free speech in
connection with a public issue. The trial court concluded Dr.
Shelton's petition fell into the category of such
"acts" as defined in La. Code Civ. Pro. art.
971(F)(1)(a), because it is a "written …
statement or writing made before a … judicial
proceeding." The trial court then noted that pursuant to
Article 971(A)(1) the burden shifted to the non-mover, Ms.
Pavon, to show a probability of success on her claim for
defamation. The trial court ultimately concluded she could
not. The trial court then awarded attorney fees to Dr.
Shelton as the prevailing party on the motion, pursuant to
La. Code Civ. Pro. art. 971(B).
Pavon sought review in the court of appeal, which ultimately
reversed the trial court's ruling. The court of appeal
observed that the trial court was correct in first
determining whether Dr. Shelton's petition to nullify the
change of beneficiary constituted an act in furtherance of
his right to petition in connection with a public issue.
However, the court of appeal disagreed with the trial
court's conclusion that Dr. Shelton met his prima facie
burden under Article 971. The court of appeal found the
language of Article 971(F)(1)(a) was ambiguous because it was
susceptible to different meanings. Relying on the Fifth
Circuit's decision in Yount v. Handshoe, 14-919
(La.App. 5 Cir. 5/28/15), 171 So.3d 381, writ
denied, 15-2302 (La. 2/19/16), 187 So.3d 462, the court
of appeal held that, in light of the legislative history,
relevant case law, and the statutory language as a whole, La.
Code Civ. Pro. art. 971(F)(1)(a) requires the statements made
in a judicial proceeding be made in connection with a public
issue. Shelton v. Pavon, 16-0758 (La.App. 4 Cir.
2/15/17), 212 So.3d 603. The court of appeal concluded Dr.
Shelton's petition was not an exercise of his right of
petition in connection with a public issue.
Shelton sought writs in this court, asserting the Fourth
Circuit's decision was in conflict with rulings from the
First, Second, and Third Circuits. He cited, among others,
Gibbs v. Elliott, 12-212 (La.App. 1 Cir. 09/13/13),
186 So.3d 667; Jones v. Delta Fuel Co., 48885
(La.App. 2 Cir. 05/28/14), 141 So.3d 352; and Jeansonne
v. Roy, 13-741 (La.App. 3 Cir. 03/05/14), 156 So.3d 134,
142, reversed in part, 14-0729 (La. 6/30/14), 147
So.3d 1116), all of which held that pleadings filed into the
record of a judicial proceeding fall within the definition of
“[a]n act in furtherance of the person's right of
petition or free speech” as contemplated by Article
971(F)(1)(a). We granted Dr. Shelton's writ application
to resolve a conflict in the circuits. Shelton v.
Pavon, 17-0482 (La. 2/15/17), 212 So.3d 603.
this conflict requires us to interpret Article 971, and so we
begin with the language of the statute itself. M.J.
Farms, Ltd. v. Exxon Mobil Corp., 07- 2371 (La.
07/01/08), 998 So.2d 16, 27). "When a law is clear and
unambiguous and its application does not lead to absurd
consequences, the law shall be applied as written and no
further interpretation may be made in search of the intent of
the legislature." La. Civ. Code art. 9. "When the
language of the law is susceptible of different meanings, it
must be interpreted as having the meaning that best conforms
to the purpose of the law." La. Civ. Code art. 10.
Generally, words are given their prevailing meaning, but
"when the words of a law are ambiguous, their meaning
must be sought by examining the context in which they occur
and the text of the law as a whole." La. Civ. Code arts.
11 and 12.
Louisiana Code of Civil Procedure Article 971 provides in
A. (1) A cause of action against a person arising from any
act of that person in furtherance of the person's right
of petition or free speech under the United States or
Louisiana Constitution in connection with a public issue
shall be subject to a special motion to strike, unless the
court determines that the plaintiff has established a
probability of success on the claim.
(2) In making its determination, the court shall consider the
pleadings and supporting and opposing affidavits stating the
facts upon which the liability or defense is based.
(3) If the court determines that the plaintiff has
established a probability of success on the claim, that
determination shall be admissible in evidence at any later
stage of the proceeding.
B. In any action subject to Paragraph A of this Article, a
prevailing party on a special motion to strike shall be
awarded reasonable attorney fees and costs.
C. All discovery proceedings in the action shall be stayed
upon the filing of a notice of motion made pursuant to this
Article. The stay of discovery shall remain in effect until
notice of entry of the order ruling on the motion.
Notwithstanding the provisions of this Paragraph, the court,
on noticed motion and for good cause shown, may order that
specified discovery be conducted.
F. As used in this Article, the following terms shall have
the meanings ascribed to them below, unless the context
clearly indicates otherwise:
(1) "Act in furtherance of a person's right of
petition or free speech under the United States or Louisiana
Constitution in connection with a public issue" includes
but is not limited to:
(a) Any written or oral statement or writing made before a
legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding, or any other
official proceeding authorized by law.
(b) Any written or oral statement or writing made in
connection with an issue under consideration or review by a
legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other
official body authorized by law.
(c) Any written or oral statement or writing made in a place
open to the public or a public forum in connection with an
issue of public interest.
(d) Any other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the
constitutional right of petition or the constitutional right
of free speech in connection with a public issue or an issue
of public interest.
appellate courts interpret this statute as requiring a
two-part, burden-shifting analysis, which the trial court had
in fact performed. See, e.g., Thomas v. City of Monroe
Louisiana, 36, 526 (La.App. 2 Cir. 12/18/02), 833 So.2d
1282; Aymond v. Dupree, 05-1248 (La.App. 3 Cir.
04/12/06), 928 So.2d 721. In cases where right of petition
and free speech activities form the basis of the claims, the
mover must first establish that the cause of action against
him arises from an act by him in the exercise of his right of
petition or free speech under the United States or Louisiana
Constitution in connection with a public issue. La. Civ. Code
Pro. art. 971(A)(1); Yount v. Handshoe, 14-919, pp.
6-7, 171 So.3d at 385-86; Thinkstream, Inc. v.
Rubin, 06-1595 p. 9 (La.App. 1 Cir. 09/26/07), 971 So.2d
1092, 1100, writ denied, 07-2113 (La. 1/7/08), 973
So.2d 730. If the mover makes a prima facie showing
that his comments were constitutionally protected and in
connection with a public issue, the burden shifts to the
plaintiff to demonstrate a probability of success on the
claim. Id. In cases where more than one claim is
alleged in the petition, the courts examine the probability
of success of each claim individually. Darden v.
Smith, 03-1144 p. 8 (La.App. 3 Cir. 06/30/04), 879 So.2d
390, 397, writ denied, 04-1955 (La 11/15/04), 887
So.2d 480; Melius v. Keiffer, 07-0189 p. 5 (La.App.
4 Cir. 03/12/08), 980 So.2d 167, 172, writ not
considered, 08-1039 (La. 8/29/08), 989 So.2d 90. If the
plaintiff can demonstrate a probability of success on any of
his claims, then the special motion to strike must fail.
Shelton contends the court of appeal's ruling departs
from the rules of statutory interpretation, citing La. Civ.
Code art. 10, because it does not conform to the purpose of
the law. In his view, Article 971(F)(1) sets forth specific
examples of what the legislature meant by an Aact in
furtherance of a person's right of petition or free
speech under the United States or ...