USA English Language Center v. Sacco-Cooke Unlimited CA4/1

Filed 1/18/23 USA English Language Center v. Sacco-Cooke Unlimited CA4/1 NOT TO BE PUBLISHED IN OFFICIAL REPORTS California Rules of Court, rule 8.1115(a), prohibits courts and parties from citing or relying on opinions not certified for publication or ordered published, except as specified by rule 8.1115(b). This opinion has not been certified for publication or ordered published for purposes of rule 8.1115. COURT OF APPEAL, FOURTH APPELLATE DISTRICT DIVISION ONE STATE OF CALIFORNIA USA ENGLISH LANGUAGE CENTER, D079608 INC., Plaintiff and Appellant, (Super. Ct. No. 37-2018- v. 00065588-CU-BT-CTL) SACCO-COOKE UNLIMITED, LLC et al., Defendants and Respondents. APPEAL from an order of the Superior Court of San Diego County, Eddie C. Sturgeon, Judge. Affirmed. Law Offices of David C. Beavans and David C. Beavans for Plaintiff and Appellant. Paul, Plevin, Sullivan & Connaughton; Quarles & Brady, Sandra L. McDonough, and Ryan J. Evans for Defendants and Respondents. I INTRODUCTION Plaintiff USA English Language Center, Inc. (the Language Center) appeals an order granting a special motion to strike filed under the anti- SLAPP statute (Code Civ. Proc., § 425.16; further undesignated statutory references are to the Code of Civil Procedure) by defendants Sacco-Cooke Unlimited, LLC dba Connect English Language Institute (Connect English), Nicholas Sacco, Adam Cooke, and Christopher Hill.1 We affirm. II BACKGROUND A. The Complaint The Language Center is a private postsecondary education institute that offers English language instruction programs in San Diego. Connect English is a competitor offering similar programs in the same market. Sacco, Cooke, and Hill are Connect English employees. The Language Center and an affiliated entity (together, the plaintiffs) filed a lawsuit against Doe defendants 1–100, four of whom were subsequently identified as Connect English, Sacco, Cooke, and Hill. The operative first amended complaint pleaded causes of action against all of the named defendants for violations of the Unfair Competition Law (Bus. & Prof. Code, § 17200; the UCL), intentional interference with contractual relations, and intentional interference with prospective economic advantage, and it pleaded a fourth cause of action for trade libel against the individual defendants. The operative complaint alleges the defendants violated the UCL by: (1) making disparaging, in-person statements about the Language Center to current and prospective students, including statements that the Language Center charges illegal fees to students, offers poor educational instruction, and operates a “visa mill,” (2) making similar disparaging statements on 1 SLAPP is an acronym that refers to a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. (Geiser v. Kuhns (2022) 13 Cal.5th 1238, 1242.) 2 publicly-accessible websites, (3) accessing the private information of Language Center students without authorization; (4) enrolling at the Language Center to misappropriate its trade secrets; and (5) lodging false complaints with the Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training (the Accrediting Council) and the Student and Exchange Visitor Program (the Exchange Program) about the Language Center’s alleged failure to comply with those entities’ regulations. The Accrediting Council is a federally-recognized accrediting agency that provided institutional accreditation to the Language Center. The Exchange Program—a program overseen by U.S. Immigration and …

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