Virgina SLAPP Stories
Sued for Speaking Out in Virginia!
- ·In 2008, developer Roger Woody sued Christiansberg bloggers Terry Ellen Carter and Tacy Newell-Foutz, who had complained on their blog about a huge dirt pile of topsoil Woody had left at the site of his development project in their neighborhood. Woody also sued two women he had seen talking to Carter at a town hall meeting, one of whom turned out to be a town planner and both of whom had no connection with any the blog or any other website. He alleged $31 million in damages on claims of conspiracy, “insulting words” and interference with business contracts. The ACLU of Virginia stepped in on the bloggers’ behalf, arguing that the First Amendment protected their right to criticize the dirt pile. The court dismissed all claims against all four women, but not before they had each racked up thousands of dollars in fees. Woody v. Carter, et. al. (VLW 008-8-224).
- ·In 2007, United Food and Commercial workers was engaged in a corporate campaign against pork producer Smithfield foods. As part of this campaign, union members testified before local government entities and urged such bodies to pass resolutions condemning some of Smithfield’s unfair labor practices. In response to the union’s government petitioning activity, Smithfield filed a federal lawsuit, claiming that the union had orchestrated a “public smear campaign” to hurt Smithfield’s business, which it characterized as a method of extortion. Smithfield also claimed that the union’s petitioning activities were part of an illegal conspiracy under federal racketeering laws (which were designed to combat organized crime), and alleged $5 million in damages. Smithfield Foods, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers Int’l Union et al., No. 3:07cv641 (E.D. Va. May 30, 2008).
- ·In 2001, a publicly-traded corporation brought a suit in Indiana against various “John Doe” defendants arising out of Internet chat room postings that the corporation claimed were defamatory. Because it feared “economic harm” from its prosecution of the lawsuit, the company sought to proceed anonymously, identifying itself in its complaint only as “Anonymous Publicly Traded Company.” But while it sought to proceed anonymously, the corporation subpoenaed America Online (AOL) for the identities of each of the anonymous chat room posters. A Virginia trial court, according comity to the decision of the Indiana court, directed AOL to comply with Indiana subpoena. The Virginia Appellate Court reversed, holding that the plaintiff had alleged only conclusory assertions of potential damage that did not rise to the level wherein it could proceed anonymously. America Online Inc. v. Anonymous Publicly Traded Company, 2001 Va. Lexis 38 (Va. Sup. Ct. 2001).
- ·In 2008, Thomas Garrett, a chicken farmer and Hollywood publicist, double-SLAPPed those who dared to discuss public doings involving him. First, Garrett sued Charlottesville newspaper The Hook after it published a series of articles covering state criminal proceedings against him. Then, in December 2008, he subpoenaed Virginia blogger Waldo Jaquith for blogging about the lawsuit, seeking, among other things, the names and IP addresses for every person who had posted a comment to Jaquith’s post about the lawsuit (81 as of the discovery order). See Garrett v. The Hook, No. CL08000197-00 (Buckingham Co. Circuit Ct., filed Dec. 12, 2008).