Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (“SLAPPs”) are meritless lawsuits designed to stifle the lawful exercise of First Amendment rights. Rather than seeking to right a legal wrong, SLAPPs are meant to retaliate against individuals, organizations, or companies for exercising their constitutionally protected rights of free speech, rights to petition, or rights of association.
The Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”) protects victims of SLAPP suits by establishing a special motion to expeditiously dismiss these meritless lawsuits. Successful movants under the TCPA are also entitled to an award of attorney’s fees and sanctions, allowing SLAPP victims to recover the costs of defending against these lawsuits and deterring SLAPP filers from bringing meritless claims.
Since its inception, the TCPA has repeatedly protected individuals and organizations in the Dallas area facing retaliatory lawsuits aimed at intimidating and keeping them from speaking out about important issues.
A student at Southern Methodist University who was accused but later acquitted of rape brought a lawsuit against the purported victim and her parents for malicious prosecution, defamation, and tortious interference with contractual relations. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA, which the trial court denied; on appeal, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals held that certain causes of action were meritless or otherwise barred, thus warranting dismissal under the statute. Cuba v. Pylant, 814 F.3d 701 (5th Cir. 2016).
An individual publicly alleged and reported to the police that her former partner, a Dallas resident, stalked and assaulted her after their relationship ended. The former partner brought a lawsuit against her, alleging a variety of causes of action stemming from her allegations. The victim/defendant was able to use the TCPA to have several causes of action dismissed. Charalambopoulos v. Grammer, No. 3:14-CV-2424-D, 2015 WL 390664, at *28 (N.D. Tex. Jan. 29, 2015).
An online mortgage lender sued a home loan applicant and her husband after they posted a critical review of the lender online. A Dallas trial court dismissed the lawsuit and awarded sanctions against the lender for filing a meritless lawsuit aimed at chilling defendants’ speech. Am. Heritage Capital, LP v. Gonzalez, 436 S.W.3d 865, 868 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2014, no pet.).
A multi-level marketing company sued a consumer advocate for his comments about the company’s questionable business practices related to the sale of dietary supplements. The TCPA protected the blogger from the retaliatory lawsuit and awarded the defendant attorney’s fees and sanctions. MacFarland v. Le-Vel Brands LLC, 05-16-00672-CV, 2017 WL 1089684, at *3 (Tex. App.—Dallas Mar. 23, 2017, no pet.).
The TCPA protected a homeowner, who published a critical online review of a contractor she hired to make an addition to her home, from the contractor’s retaliatory lawsuit. Young v. Krantz, 434 S.W.3d 335 (Tex. App.-Dallas May 28, 2014).
The TCPA protected a board member of the Garland Youth Soccer Association who was sued after speaking out about the questionable practices a local company that provided registration and payment processing services for youth sports associations. Dobrott v. Jevin, Inc., No. 05-17-0142-CV, 2018 WL 6273411 (Tex. App.—Dallas Nov. 30, 2018, no pet. h.) (mem. op.).
Protective Parents Coalition, a Southlake non-profit whose purpose is to spotlight questionable practices in the family court system, was sued after criticizing several attorneys appointed to ad litem roles in family court proceedings. The attorneys’ suit was dismissed under the TCPA and affirmed on appeal. DeAngelis v. Protective Parents Coalition, 556 S.W.3d 836 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2018, no pet.).
Property owners were sued after speaking to the media and the Environmental Protection Agency about a natural-gas drilling company’s practices that allegedly contaminated the property owners’ drinking water. The TCPA protected the property owners against some of the drilling company’s claims—the Fort Worth court of appeals held, and the Texas Supreme Court affirmed, that several of the drilling company’s claims were based on the property owners’ right of free speech and right to petition and should be dismissed. In re Lipsky, 411 S.W.3d 530 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2013, orig. proceeding), mandamus denied, 460 S.W.3d 579 (Tex. 2015) (orig. proceeding).