SLAPPs Targeting Civil Rights Advocates

SLAPPs Against Civil Rights

  • In the landmark civil rights case NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886 (1982), a local branch of the NAACP instituted an economic boycott against white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi to pressure elected officials to adopt several racial justice measures. In response, the merchants sued the NAACP for tortious interference with business. The court found for the merchants and ordered the NAACP to pay $3.5 million in damages, a verdict the Mississippi Supreme Court upheld. The U.S. Supreme Court overturned the verdict, holding that “the boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity” through which the NAACP “sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.”
  • In 2008, members of the Texas civil rights group Black Citizens for Justice, Law and Order brought neighborhood concerns of racist policies to a public meeting. A member of the group took minutes at the meeting, including allegations of racist police acts and derogatory statements made about a local city council member, and forwarded the minutes to the Congress member for the district. The Congress member’s staff forwarded the minutes to the mayor of the town, who sent them to the city council member. The city council member sued, and both the civil rights group and the minute-taker were held liable for defamation, and each ordered to pay $300,000 in damages. The case, Clark v. Jenkins, 102 F.3d 1012 (2008) is now on petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • In Washington state, a local organic farmer was arrested in a traffic stop the courts ruled was an illegal “pretext stop.” He filed a federal civil rights suit, and the city attorney’s office countersued for malicious prosecution, and for defamation based upon “outlandish statements” he made about the police officer involved in the arrest. The Ninth Circuit tossed out the city’s malicious prosecution and defamation claims, saying the city had no evidence in support, and the city council paid $20,000 in 2003 to settle the case. See Ostrender v . Madsen, 2003 U.S. App. LEXIS 1665.
  • In Washington state, in 1986, police entered the homes of two Roma (Gypsy) families on a faulty warrant and searched family members – including a baby – who were not the subjects of the warrant. The families sought $59 million in damages, and the city and county countersued in federal court, alleging violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). The district court dismissed the RICO counterclaims two years later. In 1997, 11 years after the unlawful search, the city paid $1.43 million to settle the case. Marks v. Clarke, 102 F.3d 1012 (1997).