848 N.W.2d 224 (Minn. 2014), A12-1978, Leiendecker v. Asian Women United of Minnesota

Docket Nº:A12-1978, A12-2015
Citation:848 N.W.2d 224
Opinion Judge:STRAS, Justice.
Party Name:Lawrence Leiendecker, et al., Respondents, v. Asian Women United of Minnesota, et al., Appellants (A12-1978), Greenstein, Mabley & Wall, L.L.C., et al., Respondents, Ruvelson & Kautzer, Ltd., et al., Respondents, Maria Gloria Fressia, et al., Appellants (A12-2015), Susan L. Triplett, Respondent
Attorney:Thomas H. Gunther, Virnig & Gunther PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents Lawrence and Sinuon Leiendecker. Kay Nord Hunt, Phillip A. Cole, Bryan R. Feldhaus, Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants Asian Women United of Minnesota, Melani Suarez, ...
Judge Panel:Stras, J., Took no part, Dietzen, J. DIETZEN, J., took no part
Case Date:June 25, 2014
Court:Supreme Court of Minnesota
 
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Page 224

848 N.W.2d 224 (Minn. 2014)

Lawrence Leiendecker, et al., Respondents,

v.

Asian Women United of Minnesota, et al., Appellants (A12-1978),

Greenstein, Mabley & Wall, L.L.C., et al., Respondents,

Ruvelson & Kautzer, Ltd., et al., Respondents,

Maria Gloria Fressia, et al., Appellants (A12-2015),

Susan L. Triplett, Respondent

Nos. A12-1978, A12-2015

Supreme Court of Minnesota

June 25, 2014

Page 225

Court of Appeals.

SYLLABUS

1. To defeat a motion to dismiss brought under Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statutes, Minn. Stat. § § 554.01-.05 (2012), a party must produce evidence, rather than rely on mere allegations.

2. A district court must grant a motion to dismiss brought under the anti-SLAPP statutes unless the responding party shows by clear and convincing evidence that the moving party is not immune under Minn. Stat. § 554.03.

Thomas H. Gunther, Virnig & Gunther PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents Lawrence and Sinuon Leiendecker.

Kay Nord Hunt, Phillip A. Cole, Bryan R. Feldhaus, Lommen, Abdo, Cole, King & Stageberg, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants Asian Women United of Minnesota, Melani Suarez, and Claudia R. Stahl.

Thomas P. Kane, Nadia B. Hasan, Cozen O'Connor, Minneapolis, Minnesota, for respondents Greenstein, Mabley & Wall, L.L.C., and Frank T. Mabley.

Patrick J. Sauter, Bassford Remele, P.A., Minneapolis, Minnesota, for appellants Maria Gloria Fressia, Suzanne M. Cook, Valerie F. Wurster, Kristine M. Arneson, Hong-Ngoc (Ruby) H.N. Nguyen, Naweichi Temu, Regina M. Chu, Saran B. Crayton, Quoc--Bao Doan Do, and Sushila R. Shah.

Raleigh H. Levine, William Mitchell College of Law, Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Teresa J. Nelson, Ian Bratlie, American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, Saint Paul, Minnesota, for amicus curiae American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota.

Stras, J., Took no part, Dietzen, J.

OPINION

Page 226

STRAS, Justice.

For the past 10 years, respondents Sinuon Leiendecker and her husband Lawrence Leiendecker have been embroiled in litigation with appellant Asian Women United of Minnesota (" AWUM" ), a nonprofit organization that Sinuon once directed and for which Lawrence, an attorney, once did pro bono work. In this case, the fifth in a series of lawsuits between the parties, the Leiendeckers contend that AWUM and the other defendants committed various torts by suing the Leiendeckers in the past. In response, AWUM sought dismissal under Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statutes, Minn. Stat. § § 554.01-.05 (2012), which include a procedure for citizens and organizations to seek dismissal of lawsuits that deter them from exercising their right to participate in government. The district court denied AWUM's motion, concluding that the allegations in the Leiendeckers' complaint were sufficient to defeat the motion. The court of appeals affirmed. Because we conclude that the anti-SLAPP statutes required the Leiendeckers to respond to the motion with evidence, rather than rely solely on the allegations in their complaint, we reverse.

I.

The parties in this case have a long-running feud that has resulted in multiple lawsuits. AWUM is a nonprofit organization that operates a shelter for battered women and provides other services for women and children. Sinuon Leiendecker was AWUM's executive director from 1999 to 2004. Lawrence Leiendecker is an attorney who provided pro bono legal services to AWUM.

The relationship between AWUM and the Leiendeckers began to deteriorate in 2003. In late 2003, the Leiendeckers attempted to oust AWUM's board of directors by forming a new board, terminating the old board, and filing a declaratory-judgment action to have the new board declared legitimate. In response, AWUM's old board alleged that it had previously fired Sinuon from her position as AWUM's executive director and that she had received wages and benefits to which she was not entitled.

In that lawsuit--the first between the parties--the district court rejected the Leiendeckers' efforts to install the new board of directors. The district court also

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rejected the old board's allegation that it had fired Sinuon, but permitted the old board to proceed on its claims that Sinuon had received wages and benefits to which she was not entitled. The old board then fired Sinuon and sought, unsuccessfully, to add a legal-malpractice claim against Lawrence to the action. After AWUM declined to tender advance indemnification to Sinuon, the district court dismissed the case and awarded approximately $25,000 to Sinuon as reimbursement of her costs and attorney fees.

In the parties' second lawsuit, Sinuon sued AWUM in August 2005 for, among other things, wrongful termination. The district court dismissed the action, but the court of appeals reversed. Leiendecker v. Asian Women United of Minn., 731 N.W.2d 836, 838 (Minn.App. 2007). The parties settled the second lawsuit in 2008.

In the parties' third lawsuit, AWUM sued Lawrence in February 2007 for legal malpractice and related claims. Lawrence counterclaimed for indemnification. The district court eventually dismissed AWUM's complaint at AWUM's request, granted summary judgment to Lawrence on his counterclaim for indemnification, and entered judgment for over $41,000 in favor of Lawrence.

In the parties' fourth lawsuit, AWUM sued Sinuon in February 2008 for conversion and related claims, alleging that Sinuon had received wages and other payments to which she was not entitled while she was AWUM's executive director. Sinuon again moved for advance indemnification. The district court initially denied Sinuon's motion, but the court of appeals reversed and remanded. Asian Women United of Minn. v. Leiendecker, 789 N.W.2d 688, 689 (Minn.App. 2010). On remand, the district court concluded that Sinuon was entitled to indemnification, and then dismissed the lawsuit when AWUM declined to tender advance indemnification to Sinuon. The district court also entered judgment in favor of Sinuon to reimburse her for the costs and attorney fees that she had incurred prior to the dismissal.

In this lawsuit, now the fifth between the parties, the Leiendeckers seek to recover under a host of legal theories for the injuries allegedly inflicted by AWUM and the other defendants through the four previous lawsuits. Their complaint spans 116 pages, includes a total of 11 separately numbered claims,1 and names 18 defendants (plus some John Does and John Doe entities), including: AWUM; a current and a former executive director of AWUM; certain current and former AWUM board members; and individuals and companies that have provided professional services or expert testimony for AWUM. Because AWUM, its officers, and its board members have filed a joint brief in this court and are advancing the same arguments, we refer to them collectively as " AWUM."

In the district court, AWUM moved for dismissal on a number of grounds, but the only ground relevant to this appeal arises out of Minnesota's anti-SLAPP statutes, Minn. Stat. § § 554.01-.05 (2012). The anti-SLAPP statutes are directed at " SLAPP suits" --" Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation" --which...

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