Utah SLAPP Stories
In American Fork City, a newspaper publisher was sued for defamation when he published, at his own expense, an apology for previously publishing an inaccurate election ad. The writer of the ad sued him in a case that dragged on for ten years before final dismissal by the Utah Supreme Court.
In South Jordan City, a developer sued the lead organizers of community opposition to its development plan, alleging intentional interference with economic prospects – despite the fact that, notwithstanding the community’s well-organized opposition at commission meetings and city council hearings, the city had awarded the developer all of its permits allowed it to proceed with its plans.
Utah enacted anti-SLAPP legislation in 2001, which protects communications with the government. However, Utahans may be unprotected if they are sued in federal court or that of another state.
Sued for Speaking Out across the Country
- 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 October 2007, Joe Kaufman, chairman of Americans Against Hate, published an article in FrontPage Magazine in which he claimed that two organizations cosponsoring a Muslim Family Day event had ties to radical Islamic groups, including Al-Qaeda. Neither of the two organizations mentioned in the article sued Kaufman. But the Islamic Society of Arlington, Texas, and several other Islamic organizations did sue him for defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress in Texas state court, and asked the court to issue a restraining order against Kaufman. The court granted the restraining order, enjoining Kaufman from threatening or harming anyone associated with the Muslim Family Day event. Kaufman lead a peaceful protest at Muslim Family Day, and thereafter brought a motion to dismiss the case on summary judgment, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s denial of Kaufman’s motion for summary judgment and rendered judgment in his favor. Because the groups that sued Kaufman were never actually mentioned by Kaufman, and nor could a reasonable reader who was acquainted with the plaintiffs view Kaufman’s statements as being about them, the court found that the plaintiffs had failed to state a claim as a matter of law. Because Texas does not have an anti-SLAPP statute, Kaufman was unable to recover attorney’s fees. Kaufman v. Islamic Society of Arlington, 2009 Tex. App. LEXIS 4860 (Tex. App. Fort Worth June 25, 2009).
- 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).
- 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).
- · 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.
- 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).
- · 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).
- The president of a Hawaiian taxi company and 2004 Hawai’i Small Business Person of the Year, Dale Evans, asked state officials to investigate reports of misconduct and possible illegal activities engaged in by another taxi company. Based on her assertion, the Hawai’i Attorney General opened an investigation, found some minor wrongdoing and corrected the problems on site. The rival company responded by suing Evans for defamation based on the letter she sent to State officials. Evans moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that it violated federal and state constitutional rights to petition the government for redress of grievances. The trial court rejected the defense, holding the proper forum to decide the issue was the Supreme Court. Local advocacy groups argued that the delay was unjustified and only furthered the harm of the SLAPP. When the trial court did finally determine the merits of the case, Higa v. Evans, the judge called the lawsuit one of the most “frivolous” she’d seen, noting the plaintiff didn’t even show up to the trial, and agreed that Evans’ statements were protected. Viga v. Hull.
- 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