The TCPA protects public servants and government officials.
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 the TCPA’s inception in 2011, the statute has been used several times to protect public servants and government officials. Both candidates for office and public officials themselves have successfully used the TCPA to obtain dismissal of retaliatory litigation brought in response to their exercise of First Amendment rights.
When an advertising agency brought claims against a candidate for state legislature based on speech posted on the candidate’s campaign website, the TCPA protected the candidate from the meritless claims for defamation, business disparagement, conversion, and misappropriation. Rehak Creative Servs. v. Witt, 404 S.W.3d 716 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2013, pet. denied).
A group of parents brought a lawsuit against county and school district officials in response to the officials’ enforcement of truancy violations. The TCPA prevented the parents’ legally deficient claims from proceeding against the public officials. Roach v. Ingram, 557 S.W.3d 203, 219 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2018, pet. filed), reh’g denied (Aug. 2, 2018).
A candidate for public office sued his political opponent for defamation based on campaign advertisements. A Fort Worth appellate court held that the statements did not rise to actionable defamation, and therefore, that early dismissal was appropriate. Hotchkin v. Bucy, 2014 WL 7204496 (Tex. App.—Ft. Worth Dec. 18, 2014).
Texas State Representative Carol Alvarado was sued by her former political opponent for $1.5 million for a variety of claims related to her political campaign’s website and social media communications. Alvarado filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA. The plaintiff non-suited with prejudice the morning of the hearing on the motion to dismiss. Delgado v. Alvarado, Case No. 2014-10592, 234th Dist. Court, Harris County, Texas.
A businessman brought an action for defamation against two school board trustees after they implied that he had attempted to bribe them. After the trustees and the school district moved to dismiss under the TCPA, a Fort Bend County District Judge ordered that the plaintiff pay $27,500 in legal fees as a result of his meritless claim. Gonzales v. Lamar Consol. Indep. Sch. Dist., Case No. 15-DCV-224983, 268th Dist. Ct., Fort Bend County, Texas.