Mississippi SLAPP Stories

Sued for Speaking Out in Mississippi

  • In 2009, a developer sued a group of Iuka homeowners who had successfully petitioned their government to avoid an unwanted development project. He alleged more than $5 million in damages on claims of intentional interference with business relations and defamation. The developer, David McMeans, had won a contract to develop Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) -owned property that had been leased to the county. Plans included an extensive marina, shops and residences. A group of Iuka homeowners financed their own study of water traffic in the area and presented those findings to TVA, along with other safety and environmental concerns. Some residents also brought lawsuits alleging environmental noncompliance, and the Mississippi Department of Health placed a moratorium on new building at a resort that McMeans already owned because of poor water quality and pressure. McMeans v. Collins, et. al.
  • In May of 2009, Johnny Henry, inventor of the vibrating toilet seat, filed a lawsuit against Google and AOL, claiming that search results of his name delivered by Google and hosted by AOL were defamatory.  Henry, who is African-American, asserts that Google’s search results include links to, and snippets of text from, sites that contain pictures of him with captions containing a racial epithet. Although other attempts to hold Google and AOL liable for search results have failed, because federal law protects internet service providers and content hosts from liability for third party content, Henry nonetheless brought the dubiously meritorious suit, which is on-going. Henry v. Google, No. 2:09-cv-00099 (U.S.S.D. filed May 20, 2009).
  • In October 2008, Madison County engineer Rudy Warnock filed a $5 million defamation lawsuit in Madison County Circuit Court, and issued subpoenas to Google to release information about the party that owns and operates the blog madisonmisfits.blogspot.com. An article with the title “Pictures of Madison County’s Engineer at the Playboy Mansion. What did this cost Madison County?” prompted the lawsuit, which Warnock, who ran for Central District Transportation Commissioner as a Democrat in 2007, maintains is an implication that Warnock had defrauded the county in some way. Warnock v. Doe, (Mad. Co. Ct. filed Oct. 31, 2008).

Sued for Speaking Out across the Country

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

  • ·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).