Former Alameda Fire Chief David Kapler has learned the hard way that a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) can carry a very hefty price tag. He now owes the City of Alameda $260,585.39 for its attorney’s fees and costs in a final judgment entered last Friday by the Alameda County Superior Court, dismissing all nine counts of his 2011 lawsuit against the City.
“Alameda taxpayers and the City have been vindicated by this substantial final judgment for over $260,000 against Kapler for his unsuccessful attempt to shake down and intimidate the City,” said Mayor Marie Gilmore.
The dispute arose on a Saturday in August 2010 when Kapler was caught on camera by on-duty City firefighters, filling up his personal BMW sports car at the City’s fire station gas pump. At the time, Kapler had shuttered one of the City’s fire stations due to budget shortfalls. Kapler, whose annual salary was $175,000 a year, claimed to the media that he had been using City gas on a regular basis in his sports car and that it was authorized by his employment contract.
The City’s ensuing investigation found that no such contract provision existed and that Kapler had only been authorized to use City gas for his official vehicle and only while he was on City business. Kapler resigned in November 2010, just before he was to be terminated by the City. The following year he filed a nine-count lawsuit naming the City, a Councilmember, and two former City officials as defendants.
In response, the City filed a special motion to strike all nine counts of Kapler’s complaint under the state anti-SLAPP statute. Last September, the California Court of Appeal agreed with the City that all nine counts of the complaint arose from official conduct protected by the State anti-SLAPP statute and that virtually the entire complaint was meritless. The Court also held that the City was entitled to reimbursement for its attorney’s fees. The Alameda County Superior Court in December 2012 awarded the City over $260,000.00 in attorney’s fees and costs.
On October 11, 2013, Kapler’s lawyer filed a request for dismissal of the suit, thus disposing of his one remaining claim for lifetime annual health premium reimbursement. On October 25, 2013, the Court dismissed the lawsuit and entered judgment against Mr. Kapler and in favor of the City, resulting in the complete vindication of the City’s position.
The City and its officials were represented by former Berkeley City Attorney Manuela Albuquerque, Director of Complex Public Litigation and Projects for the law firm of Burke Williams and Sorensen.