Iowa SLAPP Stories

Sued for Speaking Out!

The need for free speech has never been more important, particularly regarding national security issues. – The Heritage Foundation

  • In 2009, after an independent investigation revealed that some offices of ACORN had agreed to help clients posing as pimps and prostitutes, ACORN reacted not by examining its practices, but by resorting to a lawsuit. In a highly unusual move, ACORN brought suit with the two people it had just fired against the undercover investigators, James O’Keefe and Hannah Giles, claiming that they had violated Maryland’s wiretapping and consent laws. ACORN also claimed that the website Breitbart.com had violated the law by broadcasting the videos on its web sites. ACORN and its former employees demanded statutory damages, damages for emotional distress, damages for harm to reputation, and damages for the employees losing their jobs. ACORN v. O’Keefe et. al., (Balt. Co. Sup. Ct., filed Sept. 23, 2009).
  • ·In 2009, parents of children in a 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’ statements sparked a probe by the Department of Education, which has issued an ultimatum to the charter school board to either cancel a contract with the school founder’s management company and resign, or face revocation the school’s operating charter.
  • ·In November of 2009, Miami law professor Donald Marvin Jones sued the popular website Abovethelaw.com, its parent company and editor, in federal court, alleging $22 million in damages. Jones had been arrested on suspicion of soliciting an undercover officer for sex, and Abovethelaw commented on the arrest, calling Jones the “Nutty Professor.” In his rather strangely-worded complaint, Jones makes allegations of false light, invasion of privacy and copyright infringement, and posits that each of these injuries was motivated by racism. Jones v. Minkin, et. al., Case 1:09-cv-23256-MGC (Filed Oct. 27, 2009).
  • ·In November of 2008, Texas developer George Royall sued the author of a book about an eminent domain development agreement that benefitted Royall. Displeased with the negative publicity, Royall sued the book’s author, its publisher, a book reviewer and the newspaper that published the review, and even Law Professor Richard Epstein, who had only written an introduction on the book’s dust jacket! The suit is actually Royall’s second in response to statements made about the development deal. In 2004, he sued the owners of two companies affected by the development deal who complained against his actions. See Royall v. Wright Gore, Jr., et. al., No. 29996 (2009) and Royall v. Main, et. al., No. DC-08-13480-B (2009).
  • ·In April 2007, 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 brought suit against 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).
  • ·In 1986, Joseph Scheidler and a handful of other pro-life leaders formed a nationwide coalition called the Pro-Life Action Network (PLAN) and began engaging in a concerted protest and outreach effort to persuade women to avoid abortion. In response to the protests, the National Organization for Women (NOW) and two abortion clinics sued Scheidler, PLAN and several other defendants, alleging violations of federal anti-trust laws and a conspiracy to shut down all abortion providers. In 1989, NOW added extortion and federal conspiracy charges to the lawsuit. The case wound its way to the U.S. Supreme Court three times before, in 2006, twenty years after NOW first filed suit, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in favor of Scheidler. Now v. Scheidler, 547 U.S. 9 (2006)
  • ·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.
  • ·In 2004, Linda Hull, a New Mexico parent, realized that local music teacher Ted Vives had been convicted and registered as a child sex offender. She lobbied the school district to mandate that registered sex offenders be escorted on the school’s campus, and alerted other parents and organizations to Vives’ past, which she felt was particularly important because Vives had begun giving private, unaccompanied music lessons to students after school. In 2008, Vives sued Hull, claiming intentional interference with contractual relations, infliction of emotional distress, false light invasion of privacy and malicious abuse of process. At trial, Vives admitted he hadn’t disclosed to parents that he was a convicted sex offender when he moved to Los Alamos and began offering private music lessons in his home to teenagers. He also noted that being alone with children was a “sensitive trigger” of his “urges” to offend. Vives v. Hull (N.M. 1st Judicial Ct. Oct. 8, 2009).
  • ·In 2003, Chaplain Austin Miles accused Michael Newdow, the man who sued to remove the words “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance, of perjury. Newdow was not satisfied to sue only Miles, so he sued World News Daily (WND), which had actually published Newdow’s own side of the story, and Assist News Service, which had reported on Miles’ statements. Newdow ended up apologizing to WND; he dismissed Assist News Service after it filed a motion to dismiss under the California anti-SLAPP law. Newdow v. Miles, 2006 Cal. App. Unpub. LEXIS 9482 (Cal. App. Oct. 24, 2006).
  • ·In 1998, Richard Schlegel, a personal injury attorney in Ottumwa, Iowa, was erroneously reported in the local paper to have declared bankruptcy, when in fact he was representing a bankrupt client. The paper printed a front page retraction and apology the next day, but based on the day’s exposure, Schlegel and his wife sued the paper and its editor for defamation, damage to reputation, and loss of consortium. Schlegel v. Ottumwa Courier, 585 N.W.2d 217 (Sup. Ct., Iowa, 1998).