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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 meritless claims.
Since its inception, the TCPA has repeatedly protected environmental groups, labor unions, and other non-profit advocacy organizations facing retaliatory lawsuits aimed at intimidating and keeping them from speaking out about important issues.
An environmental organization opposed a liquid-waste processing company’s practice of taking commercial loads of waste to city wastewater treatment plants. The TCPA protected the organization and its executive director after the company sued in response to their efforts. Tex. Campaign for the Env’t v. Partners Dewatering Int’l, 485 S.W.3d 184, 188–90 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi-Edinburg 2016, no pet.).
A non-profit corporation sought a declaratory judgment challenging the legality of new zoning ordinances in Laredo, Texas. The TCPA protected the non-profit corporation after several companies filed counterclaims in response to the declaratory judgment action. Rio Grande H20 Guardian v. Robert Muller Family Partnership, Ltd., No. 04-13-00441-CV, 2014 WL 309776, at *1 (Tex. App.—San Antonio Jan. 29, 2014, no pet.).
An animal-rights non-profit law organization sent a notice of its intended suit under the Endangered Species Act to a Houston restaurant and aquarium and made comments on social media regarding the restaurant and aquarium’s treatment of four white tigers. The Houston trial court granted the organization’s motion to dismiss under the TCPA and awarded the organization sanctions and attorneys’ fees. Landry’s, Inc. v. Animal Legal Defense Fund, No. 14-17-00207-CV, 2018 WL 5075116, at *2–3 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 18, 2018, no pet.).
A disgruntled former employee of a law-enforcement labor union sued the union based in part on comments the union’s executive director made regarding the employee’s departure. The TCPA protected the union—the Austin court of appeals determined that the employee’s suit was based on the union’s right of association. Combined Law Enforcement Ass’ns of Tex. v. Sheffield, No. 03-13-00105-CV, 2014 WL 411672, at *1–3 (Tex. App.—Austin Jan. 31, 2014, pet. denied) (mem. op.).
An environmental group opposed a lease agreement between a Texas county and a waste-control company that allowed the company to dispose of radioactive waste in the county. The TCPA protected the environmental group after the county sued the group based on its opposition. Sierra Club v. Andrews Cty., 418 S.W.3d 711, 713–14 (Tex. App.—El Paso 2013, pet. granted), rev’d per curiam, 463 S.W.3d 867 (Tex. 2015) (per curiam).
Plaintiffs sued a community advocacy group, a radio station, and its morning disc jockey, Greg “Bama Brown” Thompson, based on the DJ’s on-air reporting about Expedition’s plans to build a concrete batch plant in a quiet neighborhood, when Expedition had violated rules for notifying the public about its plans. Defendants successfully moved to dismiss under the TCPA. Expedition, LLC and Dripping Wet Concrete vs. Greg Thompson a.k.a. "Bama Brown" and Capstar TX, LLC, Cause No. 15-0370, 428th Dist. Ct., Hays County, Tex. (2016).