The TCPA Helps Social Media Platforms and Online Communities
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 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 these meritless claims.
Since its inception in 2011, the TCPA has repeatedly protected social media platforms, Internet commenters, and online communities facing retaliatory lawsuits intended to intimidate them and chill speech about matters of public concern.
A Dallas-area couple was sued for breach of a non-disparagement clause after the couple left a negative Yelp review about the plaintiff, a pet-sitting company, in which the couple alleged that the plaintiff improperly cared for their pets while they were out of town. The defendants successfully moved to dismiss under the TCPA by establishing that the lawsuit was brought in response to their protected First Amendment rights and that Plaintiff was unable to establish a prima facie case for each essential element of its claims. Prestigious Pets, LLC v. Duchouquette, No. DC-16-03561, 160th Dist. Ct., Dallas County, Tex. (2016).
A Facebook user brought a meritless defamation lawsuit against Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, Inc., and others arising out of a third party’s comments on the plaintiff’s Facebook page. The Facebook defendants successfully moved to dismiss pursuant to the TCPA; the trial court held that defendants had demonstrated that the lawsuit was brought in response to their exercise of First Amendment rights, that the plaintiff did not establish a prima facie case for each essential element of her claims, and that even if she had, the claims were barred by the Communications Decency Act § 230. La’Tiejira v. Facebook, Inc., 272 F. Supp. 3d 981, 995 (S.D. Tex. 2017), appeal dismissed, 17-20565, 2018 WL 1224417 (5th Cir. Feb. 15, 2018).
ADB Interests, LLC brought multiple lawsuits against individuals who used Facebook to publicly complain about their experience with its “fascia blaster” treatment for cellulite. In one case, Defendants were able to use the TCPA to convince the plaintiff from pursuing its meritless claims against these individuals, sparing defendants the costs of defending themselves from meritless claims. See ADB Interests, LLC v. Lanum, No. 2017-48647, 165th Dist. Ct., Harris County, Tex. (2017).
In another case, a Houston trial court granted a defendant’s TCPA motion to dismiss and entered a significant award of sanctions against plaintiff in order to deter future actions of that nature. ADB Interests, LLC v. Wallace, No. 2017-35441, 334th District Ct., Harris County, Tex. (2017).
A group of attorneys filed a petition for pre-suit discovery from a non-profit organization, whose purpose was to raise awareness of questionable practices in the family court system. The requested discovery sought disclosure of information relating to posts to the advocacy group’s Facebook page, including the identities of anonymous speakers on the website. The trial court granted the organization’s motion to dismiss the petition for pre-suit discovery, which the Fort Worth Court of Appeals subsequently affirmed. DeAngelis v. Protective Parents Coal., 556 S.W.3d 836 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2018, no pet.).
A restaurant and its owners brought an action against an animal-rights activist group for business disparagement, defamation, and other related torts arising, in part, out of the group’s posts on their Facebook page and tweets. The activist group successfully moved to dismiss the lawsuit under the TCPA, establishing that the lawsuit was brought in response to the its speech about a matter of public concern and that the restaurant’s claims were barred by the judicial-proceedings privilege. Landry's, Inc. v. Animal Legal Def. Fund, 14-17-00207-CV, 2018 WL 5075116 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 18, 2018, no pet. h.), reh'g denied (Dec. 31, 2018).
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 online 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’s online blog comments about issues related to a real estate developer’s services in the marketplace. Adams v. Starside Custom Builders, LLC, 547 S.W.3d 890 (Tex. 2018), reh'g denied (June 22, 2018).
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 on a website and social media about the questionable practices of a 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.).