Pennsylvania SLAPP Stories

Pennsylvania SLAPPs in the News

  • In 2009, parents of children in an online 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, even as the import of the parents’ concerns became apparent when their statements sparked a probe by the Department of Education, which has issued an ultimatum to the charter school board to cancel a contract with the school founder’s management company and resign or the department will move to revoke the school’s operating charter.
  • In December of 2008, the Philadelphia Inquirer ran a story about Chester Charter Schools, raising issues of the school’s use of public funds. In January of 2009, the operator of the charter school sued the paper, along with an editor and three reporters, for defamation and other claims. In March, the Philadelphia Inquirer filed for bankruptcy, freezing discovery in the lawsuit. Citing the freeze, the charter school then attempted to block public record requests by an Inquirer journalist, including those related to use of public funds, but the Office of Open Records ordered the school to produce the requested documents. See Pennsylvania Office of Open Records Final Determination, AP 2009-0205.
  • In 1996, medical services provider Beverly Enterprises sued a nurses union for malicious defamation in the publication of fliers and radio statements about safety issues and the ongoing labor dispute between the union and the medical services company. The NLRB, in advising that the suit constituted an enjoinable unfair labor practice, wrote that the employer “has failed to present the Board with evidence that shows his lawsuit raises genuine issues of material fact, i.e. prima facie evidence of each clause of action alleged.” See NLRB Advice Memorandum, Beverly Enterprises-Pennsylvania, Case 6-CA-28130-(1-3).
  • In 1997, the same health care organization sued the local president of the Service Employees International Union, accusing her of defaming an executive of the company in a one-on-one confrontation at a rally and at an informal town hall meeting called by five members of Congress. The suit was dismissed for failure to state a claim by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. The judge ruled that statements made at the town hall meeting were protected by legislative immunity, and that the remarks made personally to the executive were made in anger and that no reasonable person would take them literally. The appellate court affirmed the dismissal, but held that the statements made at the legislative proceeding did not constitute defamation, and so did not reach the question of legislative immunity. See Beverly Enterprises, Inc. v. Rosemary Trump, 182 F.3d 183 (1998).