Michigan SLAPP Stories
Sued for Speaking Out!
- In September 2009, Flushing Township Supervisor Don Schwieman was stopped for drunk driving. He was ordered out of the car at gunpoint, and was wearing only shorts that were on inside-out and backwards. The police report indicated that he falsely identified himself as the chief of police, and police found a commemorative police badge in his glove compartment. Schwieman pleaded not guilty, despite evidence that his blood alcohol level was three times the legal limit. Following the incident, resident Gerry Wood initiated a recall petition of Schwieman. The petition listed the events of the drunken driving incident, as per the police report, and said that Schwieman had misappropriated $44,000 of township funds, in reference to a retired chief’s retirement package, which included a $44,000 payout. The petition also noted that Schwieman had lied to other supervisors, in reference to a broken promise to step down from his seat. Wood submitted his ballot to the County Clerk and Election Commission, who determined that the language in the recall was sufficiently clear and allowed the petition to circulate. At the time the recall initiative was filed, Schwieman responded to a reporter’s question that he had no intention of reading the language in the petition. Subsequently, he must have read it, because in December, he issued a letter to Wood telling him to “cease and desist immediately” with the dissemination of the recall petition, which had “defamatory statements.” Citing the First Amendment, Wood continued, and Schwieman filed suit against Wood for libel and slander. He also named the Genesee County Clerk and Election Commission, saying they had “aided” in the slander. In a December interview immediately after the lawsuit was filed, Schwieman told that Flint Journal, “I gave (my lawyers) a pile of money, and said go get ‘em.” His lawsuit, Schwiemer v. Wood, is ongoing.
- In 2006, the Ecology Center and other environmental organizations launched a campaign to urge the Michigan Legislature to restrict the use of pharmaceutical lindane, a chemical that has been linked to cancer and that is banned in fifty-two countries. Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals, a company that uses lindane in lotions and shampoos, sued the Ecology Center and two members of the Michigan Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on the basis of this campaign. Morton Grove brought suit in Illinois district court, alleging defamation, tortious interference with business, trade disparagement, and deceptive trade practices, and claiming more than $9.3 million in damages. The district court dismissed the case for lack of personal jurisdiction over the defendants, but the suit was reinstated a few months later. The parties battled it out for two costly years before settling in 2008. Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals, Inc. v. The National Pediculosis Association, (N.D. Ill. No. 08-C-1384 2008).
- In 2004, the Michigan Education Association and its president, Luigi Battaglieri, sued the conservative think tank the Mackinac Institute on claims of appropriation and false light invasion of privacy. Battaglieri had given a speech in which he acknowledged his admiration for some of Mackinac’s work in the education field. Mackinac then sent a policy and fundraising letter in which it accurately represented this statement to its members, in a discussion about how even ideological opponents approved of the organization’s work. The Michigan appeals court dismissed both claims. Battaglieri v. Mackinac Center for Public Policy, 680 N.W.2d 915, 919 (Mich. Ct. App. 2004).