SLAPP Lawsuits Threaten Environmental Groups

SLAPP law suits stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.”

The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press in Washington, D.C. have written that SLAPPs are becoming a common legal tool to intimidate and silence critics of businesses, often for environmental and local land development issues.

Most SLAPP lawsuits center around defamation, but not all. The Rainforest Action Network in San Francisco, and other sources, report that Energy Transfer Partners filed a law suit against Greenpeace over their opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. The suit was for $300 million, and as a RICO (Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act) claim its awards would be tripled, so it could cost Greenpeace $900 million. That would be the end of Greenpeace.

But these lawsuits are not designed to win in court. Instead, the lawsuits are designed to drain environmental groups of funds until they either agree to be silent or run out of funds and close.

SLAPP lawsuits involve Canadian companies, too. Huge forestry company Resolute Forest Products sued in a U.S. court Greenpeace and other environmental groups that were campaigning to save Canada’s boreal forest. CBC News reported that the U.S. court dismissed Resolute Forest Products’ lawsuit. The Judge wrote that the defendants’ speech “constituted the expression of opinion, or different viewpoints that are a vital part of our democracy.”

The Rainforest Action Network suggests that both the Resolute and the Energy Transfer lawsuits were launched by Michael Bowe. He works for the law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres and Friedman, whose founding partner is President Donald Trump’s lawyer, according to RAN and also the CBC News.

RAN refers to the American Civil Liberties Union as reporting that over 30 separate anti-protest bills have been introduced in the U.S. since November 8, 2016. And sources are advising RAN that Michael Bowe may be speaking with additional companies regarding upcoming SLAPP lawsuits.

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press report that SLAPP defense attorneys and anti-SLAPP law advocates call the lawsuits a direct attack on First Amendment rights. Anti-SLAPP statutes are meant to protect people from lawsuits of questionable merit that are often filed to intimidate speakers into refraining from criticizing a person, company, or project.

The Digital Media Law Project writes that 28 U.S. states have enacted anti-SLAPP statutes. The courts in two other states, Colorado and West Virginia, have recognized a defense to lawsuits that target activities aimed at petitioning the government for action on issues of public importance. These common law (i.e., judge-made) rules offer similar protections to those provided by some statutes.

In Canada, only Ontario and Quebec have anti-SLAPP laws, reports Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. British Columbia used to have an anti-SLAPP law, but the B.C. Liberals repealed the anti-SLAPP law after they were elected in 2001.

Meanwhile, RAN is defiant. They end their article with “They think they can stop us from fighting for people and planet. But we are just getting started.”

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Alison Wheatley

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