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The TCPA Helps Domestic Violence and Sexual Harassment and Assault Victims
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 intended 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, protecting SLAPP victims from the high costs associated with defending these lawsuits and deterring SLAPP filers from bringing such claims.
Since its inception, the TCPA has repeatedly protected victims of domestic violence or harassment facing retaliatory lawsuits intended to intimidate and silence them.
After a law school student alleged that a local public figure sexually harassed and assaulted her, the public figure brought a lawsuit against her for defamation. The student moved to dismiss under the TCPA and ultimately was able to establish that the lawsuit was meritless and brought in response to protected rights, mandating dismissal under the TCPA. Vander-Plas v. May, 07-15-00454-CV, 2016 WL 5851913, at *7 (Tex. App.—Amarillo Oct. 4, 2016, pet. denied).
In Charalambopoulos v. Grammer, an individual publicly alleged and reported to the police that her former partner 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).
A daughter and her husband brought an action against the daughter’s parents for defamation after they accused the husband of being abusive towards the daughter. After the trial court initially denied the parents’ TCPA motion, the Court of Appeals reversed as to several claims. Cavin v. Abbott, 545 S.W.3d 47 (Tex. App.—Austin 2017, no pet.).
An individual 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).
In Hammond v. Lovings, the defendant made accusations of sexual harassment against the plaintiff, Hammond, to her employer. During the ensuing investigation, other female employees made similar allegations of misconduct against the plaintiff, who filed suit for defamation in response. Defendants successfully moved to dismiss under the TCPA by demonstrating that the action was in response to their protected First Amendment rights and that Plaintiff had not established a prima facie case for his claims. Hammond v. Lovings, 5:15-CV-00579-RP, 2016 WL 9049579, at *3 (W.D. Tex. May 25, 2016).
A former children’s camp counselor sued journalists, media organizations, and the family of an eleven-year-old victim of sexual assault after defendants reported incidents of sexual assault that plaintiff committed while serving as a camp counselor. The family of the child successfully moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s claims under the TCPA. Matthew S. Bovee v. Houston Press LP, et al., No. 14-17-00008-CV, 2017 WL 1015675 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Mar. 14, 2017, no pet.).