After an individual was sued for defamation by a corporation following comments made on Yelp and CitySearch, Pete Reid Law, PLLC has had the lawsuit thrown out based on an individual’s right of free speech, with the judge sanctioning the corporation and ordering it to pay the individual’s attorneys’ fees.
SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” It refers to a lawsuit filed against an individual who has spoken out on a public issue or controversy. However, you might be “SLAPPed” by a corporation for an action as benign as posting a Facebook entry, posting a comment on another person’s blog, writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper, or even sending a tweet.
In 2011 the Texas Legislature enacted the Texas Citizens Participation Act. One of the purposes of the Act was to encourage “citizen participation” which includes “commenting on the quality of a business”. See Pete Reid’s Memo on the Act here.
Recently, Pete Reid Law, PLLC represented an individual who had posted comments about his experience with a Corporation on various consumer websites, including Yelp and Citysearch.
The Corporation filed a lawsuit against the consumer in Bastrop County, Texas, alleging that the comments were defamatory and that the Corporation had lost profits and suffered damages in the amount of approximately $100,000.00.
The Individual did not deny making the comments but rather Pete Reid Law, PLLC defended his actions as being protected by the constitutional right of freedom of speech.
On behalf of the Individual, Pete Reid Law, PLLC immediately prepared and served specific requests for evidence on the Corporation, and then quickly filed a special motion to dismiss the lawsuit in accordance with the provisions of the new Texas Citizens Participation Act (Anti-SLAPP legislation).
This was one of the first motions to dismiss to be brought under the new Anti-SLAPP legislation in Texas.
At a hearing before a packed courtroom on June 27, 2012, Pete Reid convinced 21st District Court Judge Terry Flenniken that the lawsuit was subject to the Texas Citizens Participation Act because the Corporation was suing to prevent the Individual’s exercise of his right to free speech on a matter of public concern.
Mr. Reid also argued to the Court that, based on the evidence that Pete Reid Law, PLLC had obtained, the Corporation could not establish by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for defamation. Therefore, Mr. Reid reasoned, the case should be dismissed.
After considering the evidence and the arguments of both sides, Judge Flenniken agreed with Mr. Reid and threw out the lawsuit, ordering that the attorneys appear for another hearing to decide whether costs and sanctions should be levied against the Corporation.
After hearing more evidence and argument from Mr. Reid on August 1, 2012, Judge Flenniken issued a Final Judgment on September 5, 2012, whereby the case was formally dismissed.
Importantly, the Judge also ordered that, pursuant to §27.009 of the Texas Citizens Participation Act, the Individual should recover $5,000.00 of his attorneys’ fees from the Corporation that brought the lawsuit, as well as sanctions from the Corporation in the amount of $500.00.
As of September 2012, it is believed that this case is one of only a handful of cases to have been decided under the new Texas Citizens Participation Act, and one of the very first where a Judge has awarded sanctions against a corporation to deter that entity from filing further lawsuits against public participation in the future.
Pete Reid represented the Individual in this action in Bastrop County, Texas.
Pete Reid Law, PLLC is grateful for the input of Laura Prather, Esq, the Austin First Amendment attorney who led the effort to pass the Texas Anti-SLAPP law, to Alicia Wagner Calzada, Esq, who is the author of the resourceful blog www.slappedintexas.com, and also to Kirk Cesari, Esq, an attorney and friend of the firm, who provided Mr. Reid with invaluable background research and strategic advice.