Resolving what it calls “an ordinary question of contract interpretation that the Legislature likely did not contemplate,” the Supreme Court in Olson v. Doe today holds that two parties’ agreement “not to disparage one another,” made in settling a restraining order proceeding, did not prevent one party from later suing the other for sexual assault and harassment. The court concludes the defendant in the subsequent litigation could not counter sue for breach of the agreement because the plaintiff “had no obligation under the contract to refrain from making disparaging statements in litigation.”
The court’s unanimous opinion by Justice Goodwin Liu says the nondisparagement agreement should not be read so broadly as to preclude a lawsuit because, among other things, the agreement doesn’t include “terms providing any release from liability or waiver of claims.” The court also finds it significant that the agreement was made during an expedited and limited restraining order proceeding, which is “not intended to provide a forum for a global resolution of a petitioner’s potential claims related to the underlying conduct at issue.”
The opinion does not decide whether the litigation privilege of Civil Code section 47, subdivision (b), “also poses a barrier” to the cross-complaint for breach of contract.
The court reverses the Second District, Division Eight, which held in an unpublished opinion that the litigation privilege protected the plaintiff’s filing of an administrative complaint with federal and state housing agencies, but not her filing of a lawsuit.