Texas SLAPP Stories
Lone Star SLAPPs
- Dallas: A group of homeowners who spoke out on an online forum about their homeowner’s association were sued for libel by the association. In May of 2008, the parties settled the case. As part of the settlement, the association agreed to post the settlement agreement on its website for no less than 30 days. See Frisco Fairways Homeowners Ass’n v. Doumani, et al., No. 2008-60050-393 (393rd Dist. Ct., Denton County, Tex. filed Feb. 15, 2008); Jim Getz, Property Owners Accused of Libel. Online Postings Against Homeowners Group Lead to Fight Over Free Speech, The Dallas Morning News, March 24, 2008, at 1A.
- Dallas: A Dallas City Council member who was ousted from the board of a non-profit after he allegedly embezzled money from a non-profit sued the chairwoman of the non-profit for defamation. The plaintiff was later found guilty of embezzlement. See Fantroy v. Splatt, No. DC-04-00615 (162nd Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. filed Jan. 27, 2004); Kent Fischer, Fantroy Accused Before Councilman was Ousted from Paul Quinn Board; He Denies Fund Misuse, The Dallas Morning News, June 29, 2005, at 1A; Jason Trahan, Fantroy Guilty of Theft. Jury Quickly Convicts Ex-Council Member of Embezzling from College, The Dallas Morning News, February 29, 2008, at 1A.
- Dallas: In 2010, Dallas blogger Avi Adelman began reporting on the owners of a neighborhood bar that was located near a shooting. Adelman reported that one owner was taken into custody on an immigration violation and that the other owner was cited by the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission. The latter co-owner, Fernando Rosales, sued Adelman in December 2010 for libel and slander, copyright and trademark infringement and interference with the sale of a business. Rosales also moved for a temporary restraining order prohibiting any future blog content about Rosales and/or the bar, which a Dallas County trial court denied. The case is currently in the pleadings stage, and copies of all filed documents can be found on the blog at http://www.barkingdogs.org/news/Lost% 20Society%20v%20BarkingDogs
- Waco: 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 the costs to defend this meritless suit because Texas has no anti-SLAPP law. Peeler v. Baylor University, No. 10-08-00157-CV (Tex. Ct. Apps. Sept. 16, 2009).
- Freeport: In November of 2008, Carla Main wrote a book entitled Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. The book tells the story of a Texas family running a waterfront business, that the city and a particular developer tried repeatedly to force out of business in furtherance of a development project. The developer sued the author, the book’s publisher, a newspaper that reviewed the book, and Law Professor Richard Epstein, who wrote the book’s introduction. The suit seeks monetary damages and a permanent injunction on further printing or distribution of the book. Epstein was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction in March 2009, and in June of 2009, the remaining defendants asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit. This is actually the second suit brought by the developer 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. That lawsuit settled in January of 2009, after nearly five years of litigation, under undisclosed conditions. See Royall v. Wright Gore, Jr., et. al., No. 29996 (2009); Royall v. Main, et. al., No. DC-08-13480-B (2009).
- Austin: A man who applied for taxicab franchise from the city of Austin was sued for defamation by his former employer for statements the man made at a city council meeting when he tried to get his own franchise. A no evidence summary judgment motion in favor of the defendant was granted but the case was appealed, causing further litigation costs for the defendant. See Means v. ABCABCO, Inc., 315 S.W.3d 209 (Tex. App.—Austin 2010, no pet.).
- El Paso: A political candidate sued a television station for accurately reporting on her campaign tactics, which included disclosing the social security number and date of birth of a private El Paso citizen. Through her pre-trial tactics, the candidate has been able to keep this case alive for more than two and half years, and the court has not heard a pending motion for summary judgment for over nine months. The cost of defending this meritless case is astronomical because there is no current mechanism for getting the case dismissed prior to summary judgment. This case is still pending. See Caballero v. NPG of Texas, Inc., No. 2008-3878 (243rd Dist. Ct., El Paso County, Tex. 2008).
- Lamar: In June 2007, pseudonymous blogger “Frank Pasquale” operated a blog called “The-Paris-site,” about Paris Regional Medical Center in Paris, Texas. The hospital claimed his remarks asserted or implied that it was engaged in Medicare fraud, and objected to statements about its high incidence of bacterial infections and post-surgical complications. It sued “Pasquale,” claiming defamation, trade disparagement, breach of contract, and breach of the duty of loyalty. As part of the suit, the hospital issued a subpoena to the blog’s carrier to reveal Pasquale’s identity. Bringing a mertiless lawsuit as a means to unveil an anonymous critic’s identity is becoming disturbingly common. Recognizing the practice, the appellate court quashed the subpoena, pending a showing that the hospital could survive a motion to dismiss. Essent v. Doe, Tex. App. Ct. No. 06-07-00123-CV Dec. 12, 2007.
- Fort Bend County: In December 2005, Sienna Development sued blogger Chris Calvin, who resided in an area where the company planned to build 2700 new residences. Calvin had registered his dissent to the development in a number of blogs, under a series of pseudonyms. The complaint, filed in Texas state court, included claims for defamation, business disparagement, public nuisance, and tortious interference with prospective contract. After litigating the case for a full year, Calvin settled the case by agreeing to a permanent injunction from posting anonymous or pseudonymous statements about Sienna, or any partners, affiliates, directors, officers, or employees. See Sienna Development v. Calvin, No. 05-DCV-146667 (Filed Dec. 13, 2005).
- Austin: A woman who filed a complaint against a doctor before the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners and later complained to television station KTBC was sued for defamation by the doctor who was the subject of the complaint. The defendants filed a summary judgment motion, but the doctor was able to get the hearing continued on three different occasions – running up the costs of the litigation needlessly. The court ultimately granted summary judgment and found that the doctor’s claims had no merit. The doctor was also sanctioned by the Texas State Board of Medical Examiners. See Lewis v. Garraway and KTBC, No. D-1-GN-06-001397 (201st Dist. Ct., Travis County, Tex. 2007).
- Dallas: In 2008, a FOX 4 investigation revealed a fraudulent home health care business that was resulting in millions of dollars in Medicare payments. The company being investigated, AG Total Care sued FOX 4, alleging slander and harassment and asking for a temporary restraining order. The suit was eventually non-suited after the employee who was the subject of the investigation was arrested. See AG Total Care Home Health Services, Inc. and Anderson v. Fox Television Stations, et. al., No. 08-04668 (191st Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. 2008).
- Dallas: In 2009, Texas Fox news station KDFW investigated the case of an elderly couple that were ruled incapacitated and became wards of the state. The couple’s home was in disrepair under the mismanagement of the state and the couple was forced into a retirement home, their savings were depleted, their home was at risk of being sold and the state refused to provide accounting to the couple. The Texas Department of Aging and Disability Services filed suit, requesting a temporary restraining order, alleging the subjects of the story did not have capacity to consent to the interview, release information on their own financial data or consent to be videotaped. KDFW successfully defended the case after hiring legal counsel. See Becky Oliver, Elderly Couple Forced into State Custody, myfoxdfw.com (August 25, 2009), http://www.myfoxdfw.com/dpp/news/investigative/Elderly_Couple_Forced_into_St
- Dallas: A KDFW Fox news investigation of tutoring programs funded through No Child Left Behind Act questioned practices at a company called Tutors with Computers. Former employees were fired for raising concerns with the Texas Education Agency and school districts had complained that the company’s practices did not follow regulations. KDFW also reported on the limited oversight of programs funded by the Act. Tutors with Computers sued the two former employees who worked with KDFW on the story, alleging a variety of claims and threatened legal action against KDFW. The source for the news story was ordered by a court to cease communication with the television station. See Tutors with Computers, LLC, and Reed & Succeed, LLC v. Donna Fernandez and Russell Collins, No. 10-5779 (44th Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. 2010).
- Houston: When a blogger set up a site for people to comment about a local hospital, the hospital sued, seeking to reveal the identities of anonymous posters. See In re Does, 242 S.W.3d 805 (Tex. App. ––Texarkana, 2007, no pet.); R.G. Ratcliffe, Court Upholds Blogger’s Anonymity; Texas Appeals Panel Says Hospital Must Prove Losses to Unmask Him, The Houston Chron., December 14, 2007, at B5.
- Houston: Former Houston Independent School District administrator Robert Kimball made complaints to the school district against a private company that contracted with the district to teach troubled children, and that company sued Kimball for defamation. Cmty. Educ. Partners v. Kimball, No. 2008-33505 (234th Dist. Ct. Harris County, Tex. filed Feb. 15, 2010); Ericka Mellon, HISD Urged to Reconsider Education Deal; Ex-official Blasts Management of Alternative Schools, The Houston Chron., July 13, 2008, at B3.
- Longview: A political candidate sued, among others, his opponent’s biggest campaign donor and the opponent’s direct mail provider because he disliked the substance of a campaign ad. Despite the fact that the mail provider and the donor did not write the offending ads, they were forced to remain in the lawsuit through discovery and until summary judgment at a significant expense. Ultimately, summary judgment was granted in their favor. See Merritt v. Mark Williams, et. al., No. 2006-0448-B (124th Dist. Ct., Gregg County, Tex. April 10, 2007). Over 20 motions were filed in the case, each using court resources and costing attorneys fees.
- Palestine: A newspaper columnist for the Palestine Herald-Press criticized, but accurately described, the on-field behavior of a football coach, and the coach sued the newspaper. The newspaper prevailed, but only after defending the case on appeal. Palestine Herald-Press Co. v. Zimmer, 257 S.W.3d 504 (Tex. App.—Tyler 2008, pet. denied).