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Dallas Judge Awards $15k in Sanctions to SLAPP Defendant

April 20, 2012

Plaintiffs filing SLAPP suits in Texas are beginning to feel a greater sting as the law progresses. Late last week, a judge in Dallas granted attorneys fees, and $15k in sanctions to the defendants.

Attorney David O’Dens filed an Anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss in Dallas County and the motion was granted in March. After a hearing on attorneys fees and sanctions, the judge awarded over $15,000 in attorneys’ fees and $15,000 in sanctions, “which the court determines is sufficient to prevent Plaintiff, American Heritage Capital, LP, from bringing actions similar to this action.”

American Heritage Capital had sued Dinah Gonzalez, and later Alan Gonzalez, for defamation after Mr. Gonzalez posted comments online about a negative experience he had with the online mortgage lender. SLAPP suits over online speech are commonly called “Cyber-SLAPPs.” O’Den’s law firm posted a summary of the case on their website.

The language of the statute provides that the court shall award court costs, expenses, attorneys fees, and “sanctions against the party who brought the legal action as the court determines sufficient to deter the party who brought the legal action from bringing similar actions described in this chapter.” See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 27.009(2). The use of the wording “shall” imposes a duty on the judge under the Code Construction Act.

Washington State’s anti-SLAPP law provides for mandatory sanctions as well and statutorily mandates that the sanctions should be at least $10,000. See Wash. Rev. Code 4.24.525.

See the final judgment here. See a post by Eric Goldman here. The case is American Heritage Capital, LP v. Dinah Gonzalez and Alan Gonzalez (No. DC-11-13741-C) (filed October 27, 2011).

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