Examples of SLAPP Suits In Texas
Texas is no stranger to these kinds of lawsuits. Below are a few examples from recent years. If you have a story to add to this list, please send it to Alicia Calzada.
Austin: A man who applied for taxicab franchise from the city of Austin was sued for defamation by his former employer for statements the man made at a city council meeting when he tried to get his own franchise. A no evidence summary judgment motion in favor of the defendant was granted but the case was appealed, causing further litigation costs for the defendant. See Means v. ABCABCO, Inc., 315 S.W.3d 209 (Tex. App.—Austin 2010, no pet.).
Austin: A woman who filed a complaint against a doctor before the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners and later complained to television station KTBC was sued for defamation by the doctor who was the subject of the complaint. The defendants filed a summary judgment motion, but the doctor was able to get the hearing continued on three different occasions – running up the costs of the litigation needlessly. The court ultimately granted summary judgment and found that the doctor’s claims had no merit. The doctor was also sanctioned by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners. See Lewis v. Garraway and KTBC, No. D-1-GN-06-001397 (201st Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex. 2007).
Beaumont: Philip Klein, a blogger in Southeast Texas, petitioned a court to order Google to reveal the identities of two anonymous bloggers and any financial backers of the critical bloggers, who were critical of Klein. Klein alleged defamation, invasion of privacy and copyright violations. Eventually the Texas Supreme Court issued a stay, blocking the release of the identities of the anonymous bloggers. See In re John Does 1 and 2, No. 10-0366 (Tex. June 4, 2010).
Dallas: A newspaper was sued by a non-profit foundation for stories about the charity’s connections to a known terrorist organization. After the federal government investigated the foundation, froze its assets and shut it down, the plaintiffs non-suited the case after considerable discovery and substantial expense to the defendant. The founders of the organization were given life sentences for funneling millions of dollars to Hamas. See Holy Land Foundation v. A. H. Belo Corporation, et al., No. 153-182585-00 (filed Apr. 7, 2000)
Dallas: A developer of low income housing and a principal of the developer sued a local newspaper for newsgathering activities prior to publication of any article, claiming that the investigation intended to defame them and interfere with their business relationships. More than a year after filing, and after considerable expense to the Defendant, the court granted Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment. See Unified Housing Foundation, Inc., et al. v. The Dallas Morning News, L.P., No. 05-7036 (County Court at Law No. 7, Dallas County, Tex. filed July 22, 2005).
Dallas: A group of homeowners who spoke out on an online forum about their homeowner’s association were sued for libel by the association. See Frisco Fairways Homeowners Ass’n v. Doumani, et al., No. 2008-60050-393 (393rd Dist. Ct., Denton County, Tex. filed Feb. 15, 2008); Jim Getz, Property Owners Accused of Libel. Online Postings Against Homeowners Group Lead to Fight Over Free Speech, The Dallas Morning News, March 24, 2008, at 1A.
Dallas: A Dallas City Council member who was ousted from the board of a non-profit after he allegedly embezzled money from a non-profit sued the chairwoman of the non-profit for defamation. The plaintiff was later found guilty of embezzlement. See Fantroy v. Splatt, No. DC-04-00615 (162nd Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. filed Jan. 27, 2004); Kent Fischer, Fantroy Accused Before Councilman was Ousted from Paul Quinn Board; He Denies Fund Misuse, The Dallas Morning News, June 29, 2005, at 1A; Jason Trahan, Fantroy Guilty of Theft. Jury Quickly Convicts Ex-Council Member of Embezzling from College, The Dallas Morning News, February 29, 2008, at 1A.
Dallas: In 2010, Dallas blogger Avi Adelman began reporting on the owners of a neighborhood bar that was located near a shooting. Adelman reported that one owner was taken into custody on an immigration violation and that the other owner was cited by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The latter co-owner, Fernando Rosales, sued Adelman in December 2010 for libel and slander, copyright and trademark infringement and interference with the sale of a business. Rosales also moved for a temporary restraining order prohibiting any future blog content about Rosales and/or Lost Society, which a Dallas County trial court denied. The case is currently in the pleadings stage, and copies of all filed documents can be found on the blog at http://www.barkingdogs.org/news/Lost%20Society%20v%20BarkingDogs.
Dallas: In 2008, a FOX 4 investigation revealed a fraudulent home health care business that was resulting in millions of dollars in Medicare payments. The company being investigated, AG Total Care sued FOX 4, alleging slander and harassment and asking for a temporary restraining order. The suit was eventually non-suited after the employee who was the subject of the investigation was arrested. See AG Total Care Home Health Services, Inc. and Anderson v. Fox Television Stations, et. al., No. 08-04668 (191st Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. 2008).
Dallas: In 2009, Texas news station KDFW investigated the case of an elderly couple that were ruled incapacitated and became wards of the state. The couple’s home was in disrepair under the mismanagement of the state and the couple was forced into a retirement home, their savings was depleted, their home was at risk of being sold and the state refused to provide accounting to the couple. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services filed suit, requesting a temporary restraining order, alleging the subjects of the story did not have capacity to consent to the interview, release information on their own financial data or consent to be videotaped. KDFW successfully defended the case after hiring legal counsel. See Becky Oliver, Elderly Couple Forced into State Custody, myfoxdfw.com (August 25, 2009), http://www.myfoxdfw.com/dpp/news/investigative/Elderly_Couple_Forced_into_St.
Dallas: A KDFW investigation of tutoring programs funded through No Child Left Behind Act questioned practices at a company called Tutors with Computers. Former employees were fired for raising concerns with the Texas Education Agency and school districts had complained that the company’s practices did not follow regulations. KDFW also reported on the limited oversight of programs funded by the Act. Tutors with Computers sued the two former employees who worked KDFW on the story, alleging a variety of claims and threatened legal action against KDFW. The source for the news story was ordered by a court to cease communication with the television station. See Tutors with Computers, LLC, and Reed & Succeed, LLC v. Donna Fernandez and Russell Collins, No. 10-5779 (44th Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. 2010).
El Paso: A political candidate sued a television station for accurately reporting on her campaign tactics, which included disclosing the social security number and date of birth of a private El Paso citizen. Through her pre-trial tactics, the candidate has been able to keep this case alive for more than two and half years, and the court has not heard a pending motion for summary judgment for over nine months. The cost of defending this meritless case is astronomical because there is no current mechanism for getting the case dismissed prior to summary judgment. This case is still pending. See Caballero v. NPG of Texas, Inc., No. 2008-3878 (243rdDist. Ct., El Paso County, Tex. 2008).
Galveston: When author Carla Main wrote a book about the use of eminent domain by cities to gain property for a development, Dallas developer, H. Walker Royall not only sued the author for writing the book, but also sued the Galveston County Daily News for writing a review of the book. The non-diverse defendants were kept in the suit for one year and one day– just long enough to run up costs and destroy diversity. See George F. Will, Bulldozing Freedom Of Speech, Washingtonpost.com (August 20, 2009), http://www.washingtonpost. com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/08/19/ AR2009081902262.html. The Institute for Justice is currently defending Carla and you can read more about her story here.
Houston: When a blogger set up a site for people to comment about a local hospital, the hospital sued, seeking to reveal the identities of anonymous posters. See In re Does, 242 S.W.3d 805 (Tex. App. ––Texarkana, 2007, no pet.); R.G. Ratcliffe, Court Upholds Blogger’s Anonymity; Texas Appeals Panel Says Hospital Must Prove Losses to Unmask Him, The Houston Chron., December 14, 2007, at B5.
Houston: Former Houston Independent School District administrator Robert Kimball made complaints to the school district against a private company that contracted with the district to teach troubled children, and that company sued Kimball for defamation. Cmty. Educ. Partners v. Kimball, No. 2008-33505 (234th Dist. Ct. Harris County, Tex. filed Feb. 15, 2010); Ericka Mellon, HISD Urged to Reconsider Education Deal; Ex-official Blasts Management of Alternative Schools, The Houston Chron., July 13, 2008, at B3.
Jim Wells County: When housewife Elizabeth Burns began writing a blog about her environmental and safety concerns while living on a ranch that is a part of a South Texas oilfield, ExxonMobil and Coronado Energy E&P sued her for tortious interference and trade secrets despite the fact that she was reporting on what she saw on the property she was living on. The Coronado suit lasted for three years. See Coronado Energy E&P Co. v. McGill, No. 08-06-47106-CV (79th Dist. Ct., Jim Wells County, Tex. July 1, 2008).
Longview: A political candidate sued, among others, his opponent’s biggest campaign donor and the opponent’s direct mail provider because he disliked the substance of a campaign ad. Despite the fact that the mail house and the donor did not write the offending ads, they were forced to stay in the lawsuit through discovery and until summary judgment at a significant expense. Ultimately, summary judgment was granted in their favor. See Merritt v. Mark Williams, et. al., No. 2006-0448-B (124th Dist. Ct., Gregg County, Tex. April 10, 2007). Over 20 motions were filed in the case, each using court resources and costing attorneys fees.
Palestine: A newspaper columnist for the Palestine Herald-Press criticized, but accurately described, the on-field behavior of a football coach, and the coach sued the newspaper. The newspaper prevailed, but only after defending the case on appeal. Palestine Herald-Press Co. v. Zimmer, 257 S.W.3d 504 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2008, pet. denied).
San Antonio: A number of local television stations were sued for defamation by a political candidate alleging he was defamed by the broadcast of a political opponent’s ad. The television stations’ summary judgment motion was denied, but and appellate court overturned. The Plaintiff thereafter filed a petition for review with the Texas Supreme Court, which was denied. The litigation included many motions and caused great expense to several television stations who simply aired a political advertisement. See Farias v. Antuna, et al., No. 2006-CI-16910 (408th District Ct., Bexar County, Tex. filed Dec. 5, 2006).
Statewide: A Dallas lawyer accused by the SEC of defrauding investors sued two publications for republishing an Associated Press article. Defendants moved for summary judgment on both traditional and no evidence grounds. The trial court denied the motions, and after considerable expense to the defendant publishers, the decision was reversed on interlocutory appeal. See, e.g., Boyd v. Freedom Communications, Inc., et al., No. 2001-11-004739-A (68th District Ct., Dallas County, Tex. filed Nov. 5, 2001).
Statewide: Better Business Bureaus throughout the state have been sued over their ratings system because the business owner does not like the grade that is awarded. The grade is an opinion based upon facts that are disclosed to the consuming public. There is no basis for these lawsuits; however, the BBB’s in Texas (but not in other jurisdictions where there are anti-SLAPP statutes) are forced to defend the cases through summary judgment stage, incurring the expense of discovery prior to getting the cases thrown out. See, e.g., Arbor Consulting, Inc. v. BBB of Central Texas, No. D-1-GN-10-002852 (353rd Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex. 2011).
For more information, contact Laura Lee Prather via email at email@example.com, or by phone at 512.481.8414.
If you have a story to add to this list, please send it to Alicia Calzada.