California SLAPP Stories
Sued for Speaking Out in California
- On June 17th, 2008, developer Barry Shy and 5th St Lofts, LLC filed a lawsuit against two homeowners in the SB Grand lofts in Los Angeles. The lawsuit alleged that the two, along with an unknown number of “John Does,” made statements on the Internet that led to a loss of business for 5th St Lofts and slandered both Shy and the company. The comments at issue charged that owner Barry Shy had exhibited a pattern of deceit and intimidation, had overstated the size of units to lure customers into the building, and had promised in writing to sell units for tens of thousands of dollars less than he subsequently demanded. Many charged Shy with bullying them into purchasing their units before they are legally required to do so. Shy v. Dylan, No. BC392796 (L.A. Sup. Ct. filed Jun. 17, 2008).
- In 2005 a California real estate developer offered local appraiser Michael Stickney $100,000 to submit an inflated estimate for the value of an apartment property he planned to buy. Stickney went to the police, and wore a wire to the next few meetings with the developer. As a result of those communications, the district attorney launched an investigation, and criminal charges were filed against the developer. The developer then sued Stickney and others on thirteen separate causes of action ranging from slander to professional negligence, and issued subpoenas to Stickney and many unrelated parties, asking for personal and embarrassing information about Stickney, which he appeared to want to use to intimidate Stickney against testifying in the criminal case. Gaurano v. Stickney, San Bernardino Superior Ct. No.: S-1500-CV 257485 SPC.
- The Monterey Plaza Hotel sued the Hotel Employees Local 483 after a member of the union made comments about firings conducted by the hotel. The union successfully invoked California’s anti-SLAPP statute to quickly dismiss the case. Monterey Plaza Hotel v. Hotel Employees & Restaurant Employees Local 483, 69 Cal.App.4th 1057 (1999).
- The Canadian-American Oil Company filed suit in federal court accusing defendants — six immigrants who work for a subsidiary company washing cars — of having violated the federal racketeering act after the defendants supported efforts to unionize the workers at the car wash. The defendants filed an anti-SLAPP motion and a 12(b)(6) motion, the court dismissed the case on the 12(b)(6) motion, holding that the anti-SLAPP motion was therefore moot. Canadian-American Oil Co. v. Delgado, 108 F.3d 1384 (1997).
- Sharper Image sued Consumers Union for its poor review of a Sharper Image air cleaning system in Consumer Reports. CU successfully invoked the California anti-SLAPP law to dismiss the case. The dismissal entitled CU to reimbursement for legal fees and costs, for which it collected $525,000 early in 2005. Sharper Image Corp. v. Consumers Union, 2004 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23204.
- KinderUSA demanded that Yale University Press redact statements in a book it had published by author Dr. Matthew Levitt, which describes KinderUSA as a charitable front for terror financing. Yale Press refused to redact the statements, so KinderUSA sued Yale Press, Levitt and the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, alleging $500,000 in damages. KinderUSA v. The Washington Institute of Near East Policy, Matthew Levitt, and Yale University Press, Case No. BC370155 (filed Apr. 26, 2007).
- The oil refinery Tosco sued local group Communities for a Better Environment (CBE), claiming that CBE had libeled and slandered Tosco – in statements made in Clean Air Act lawsuits CBE was bringing against Tosco. Tosco brought its SLAPP in federal court in an effort to avoid California’s anti-SLAPP protection. Tosco v. Communities for Better Environments, 236 F.3d 495 (2001)Sued for Speaking Out Across the Country
- In 2009, Texas cameraman James Peeler sued student journalists at Baylor University for articles that mentioned truthfully that on his way to cover the 1993 Waco ATF raid on a tip, Peeler had mentioned the raid to a taxi driver who turned out to be the brother of David Koresh – thereby alerting Koresh to the raid. The court dismissed the case, but Baylor was unable to recoup costs because Texas has no anti-SLAPP law. Peeler v. Baylor University, No. 10-08-00157-CV (Tex. Ct. Apps. Sept. 16, 2009).
- In 2009, parents of children in an online charter school raised issues in their online chat room about management and improper relationships between management and the board of directors. The head of the school responded by suing six of the parents for defamation, alleging $150,000 in damages. The defamation suit, Brown v. Agora Parents Association, is ongoing in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, even as the parents’ concerns sparked a probe by the Department of Education. The Pennsylvania DOE issued an ultimatum to the charter school board: Cancel a contract with the school founder’s management company and resign, or face revocation the school’s operating charter. Brown v. Agora Parents Association.
- · In July 2009, a Chicago realty company sued its former tenant, who is involved in a class action lawsuit against the company for violations of Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinances, for tweeting to her network of twenty people: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.” The company alleged $50,000 in damages, and when asked about the lawsuit, a representative said: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” Horizon Group Management, LLC v. Bonnen, No. 2009L008675.
- · In December of 2008, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Chester Charter School, raising issues of the school’s use of public funds. In January of 2009, the operator of the charter school sued the paper, along with an editor and three reporters, for defamation and other claims. In March, the Philadelphia Inquirer filed for bankruptcy, freezing discovery in the lawsuit. Citing the freeze, the charter school then attempted to block public record requests by an Inquirer journalist, including those related to use of public funds, but the Office of Open Records ordered the school to produce the requested documents. See Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Final Determination, AP 2009-0205.
- On September 15, 2009, independent financial research team Audit Integrity published its Bankruptcy Risk Model: An Enhanced Approach to Predicting Bankruptcies and Identifying Companies in Severe Financial Distress. Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. was given a 3.99% chance of going belly up. Ten days later, Hertz sued both the company and its CEO for defamation and trade libel, asserting that Audit Integrity acted “oppressively, fraudulently and maliciously,” causing Hertz damages – “including loss of business reputation, loss of business goodwill, loss of customers, and loss of investors – in an amount not yet precisely ascertainable.” Hertz Global Holdings, Inc. v. Audit Integrity, Inc. and Zach Zwingli (Berg. County Sup. Ct. Filed Sept. 25, 2009).
- In 2001, a group of environmental advocates took out an ad in the New York Times entitled “Global Warming-How Will It End?” The ad highlighted the causes, potential impacts and possible solutions to global warming and mentioned coal as a cause of climate change. In response, the Western Fuels Association, an arm of the power industry that purchases hundreds of millions of dollars of coal annually, sued all of the following groups: Turning Point Project, the International Center for Technology Assessment, Friends of the Earth, Ozone Action, Earth Island Institute and the Rainforest Action Network, on claims of commercial defamation under the Lanham Act, which was clearly inapplicable to the political speech at issue. Western Fuel Association v. The Turning Point, et. al., 2001 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 26301 (D. Wyo. March 31, 2001).