Vermont SLAPP Stories

Green Mountain State SLAPPs

  • In 2005, a group of 14 neighbors from Bernard filed a petition with the town’s zoning board complaining that landowners had built a dam which blocked a public road.  After the complaint was eventually resolved in favor of the landowners, all 14 neighbors and the zoning board (which had ruled in favor of the neighbors) were sued by the landowners.  The landowners claimed discrimination because they were new to the town.  At the time, Vermont did not have an anti-SLAPP law so the neighbors chose to settle the suit instead of incurring the costs of defending what would have been lengthy litigation.  Such a settlement is exactly the type of intimidation that a SLAPP seeks to achieve.  Vermont Law School Professor Patrick Parenteau, who represented the neighbors during part of the legal proceedings, noted “these people had an absolute right under the Constitution to free speech and to petition their government for redress of grievances.”  However, the case generated such outrage that it prompted the enactment of Vermont’s anti-SLAPP law. (http://www.ourherald.com/news/2006-04-06/Editorials)
  • In 2010, the Chittenden County prosecutor was sued for defamation by a South Burlington police detective after the prosecutor testified in federal court in favor of a citizen suing the detective for civil rights violations.  The prosecutor simply testified that he had refused a request by the detective for a search warrant in an unrelated case.  In January of 2011, the case was dismissed but the detective vowed to appeal the case to the Vermont Supreme Court.  The detective has since been placed on administrative leave for his actions during the investigations of several unrelated cases. (http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2011110418028)
  • Willston resident Tim Twinam maintains a website that monitors a religious cult of which he was a former member.  The site mainly serves as a place for former members of the cult to discuss their experiences and as a tool for estranged families looking for former cult members.  The site also assists current cult members looking to escape.  The cult filed a lawsuit against Twinam and his wife in federal court for copyright infringement claiming that the couple obtained the cult’s letters and sermons and planned to publish the documents on their website.  The Twinams claimed that they did not have the documents and used Vermont’s anti-SLAPP law to defend against the suit.  The couple’s attorney noted “What they are really after is to try to shut Tim and Sallie up.”  The case was settled in 2009.  The terms of the settlement were not disclosed.  (http://www.7dvt.com/2009might-v-site)