Wisconsin SLAPP Stories

Sued for Speaking Out – in Wisconsin and Across the Country

  • · In July 2009, a Chicago realty company sued its former tenant, who is involved in a class action lawsuit against the company for violations of Chicago Residential Landlord Tenant Ordinances, for tweeting to her network of twenty people: “Who said sleeping in a moldy apartment was bad for you? Horizon realty thinks it’s OK.” The company alleged $50,000 in damages, and when asked about the lawsuit, a representative said: “We’re a sue first, ask questions later kind of an organization.” Horizon Group Management, LLC v. Bonnen, No. 2009L008675.

  • 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, and sent the minutes of the meeting 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 is now on petition for writ of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. Clark v. Jenkins, 102 F.3d 1012 (2008).
  • In 2008, high school music teacher and registered sex offender Ted Vives sued Linda Hull, a concerned parent who had reported Vives’ sex offender status and lobbied the school district for regulations, including mandating that registered sex offenders be supervised when with students. Vives claimed intentional interference with contractual relations, infliction of emotional distress, false light invasion of privacy and malicious abuse of process. Vives v. Hull (N.M. 1st Judicial Ct. Oct. 8, 2009).

  • In 2007, Pro Life Action League sued Illinois Planned Parenthood for defamation over statements Planned Parenthood’s CEO, Steve Trombley, made in the midst of an intense and robust public debate between Planned Parenthood and pro-life groups while Planned Parenthood was establishing a clinic in Aurora, Illinois. Trombly sent letters to city and county officials, and published open-letter ads to officials in the local paper, saying in part that some pro-life groups had a “well documented history of advocating violence.” Rather than answer speech with speech, the Pro Life Action group and several others sued Trombley for defamation. Scheidler v. Trombley (Ill. 2007).
  • In New Jersey in 2006, a hospital sued the local Health Professionals and Allied Employees and its president for, among other things, testifying before a State Assembly Health Committee and regulatory agencies about poor patient care at the hospital. Bergen Regional Medical Center, L.P. v. HPAE, Civ. 05-2596 (D. N.J. 2005).
  • In 2004, Louisiana preacher Grant Storms sued Wisconsin gay rights organization Action Wisconsin (now FAIR Wisconsin) and its executive director for defamation in Wisconsin state court over Action’s online press release that said Storms had advocated the murder of gays in a speech he made at the 2003 “International Conference on Homo-Fascism.” Storms v. Action Wisconsin, No. 2006AP396 (Jun. 5, 2008).
  • In 2003, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition (NWBCCC) and United Committees of University Heights began to work on tenants’ behalf in five buildings in the Bronx neighborhood. The group picketed and posted flyers on the properties, highlighting the substandard conditions in which the tenants were living. In response to the activism, the realty company that owned the buildings filed suit against the community organizers, claiming trespass, libel and wrongful interference with business relationships. New Line Realty Corp. v. United Committees of University Heights, Case. No. 1021/04 (N.Y. Jul. 24, 2008).
  • In 2002 Wisconsin Assembly Member Julie Lassa sued  Alliance for Working Wisconsin (AWW) for mailers raising her supposed connections to Chuck Chvala, former Senate majority leader, who was accused of fraud and other crimes. In a sterling example of core political speech, the postcard asked readers to “call Julie Lassa . . . and the rest and ask them the tough questions–did you compromise your integrity, did you play along with an illegal game, did you misuse tax dollars to win elections?” Although Lassa was reelected to the Assembly with a higher percentage than she had received in the previous election, she sued AWW for defamation. During discovery, it became clear that the lawsuit was an attempt to learn the identities of all members in the AWW. Lassa v. Rongstad, 2006 WI 105, P37 (Wis. 2006).