What is a SLAPP Suit?
CLDC lawyers have been successful in defending social and climate justice activists and organizations from SLAPPs (strategic lawsuits against public participation), which are designed to chill free speech — notably dissent.
Deep-pocketed corporate bullies have a long, shameful track record of filing SLAPP suits to intimidate climate justice and other progressive activists and organizations. And they keep filing them, for the sole purpose of draining activists’ resources, wasting their time (which impacts the effort that people can contribute to social movements), and causing anxiety. All of these factors create a chilling effect that harms the exercise of free speech. Examples include defamation (libel and slander) lawsuits against people for simply speaking out against corporate wrongdoing.
SLAPP suits typically charge the defendant-activist or organization with defamation or some other form of tortious misconduct, framing the lawsuit as legitimate when the actual goal is to intimidate and silence activists and target the right to free speech.
The CLDC is a national expert in defending activists and their campaigns from the threat of unconstitutional SLAPP suits. We have a large brief bank and legal resources available for lawyers. If you are an attorney representing environmental or social change activists, please contact us.
We are a proud, active, member of the national Protect the Protest coalition, which defends those attacked by SLAPP suits and educates activists and the public about them. Through this process we have conveyed, as a coalition, that we stand with one another, and that corporate bullies come after all of us when they come after one of us. CLDC lawyers got both Resolute Forest Products’ and Energy Transfer Partners’ (now known as Energy Transfer) SLAPP suits against climate justice activists thrown out for our clients.
We also defeated the Eugene “Weed Nazi,” who attempted to SLAPP a Eugene-based antifascist activist when she was exposed as a white nationalist. CLDC lawyers also provided legal support for the “Weed 9,” and Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC), members of the Weed community who faced a SLAPP suit brought by Roseburg Forest Products’ in their effort to control a local water source. That suit was also dismissed. We look forward to winning more victories against malicious SLAPPs!
“Weed 9” Lawsuit: Water for Citizens of Weed California et al. v. Churchwell White LLP et al.
In April 2020 CLDC filed suit against the Sacramento law firm Churchwell White LLP and two of its attorneys, alleging that they engaged in malicious and unlawful conduct when they (on behalf of their client, Roseburg Forest Products) filed a lawsuit against nine local activists and their community organization, Water for Citizens of Weed, California (WCWC) in May of 2017.
The lawsuit against our clients was dismissed in December 2017 under California’s anti-SLAPP law, and Roseburg Forest Products was ordered to reimburse the activists and WCWC for legal fees. Such “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or “SLAPP suits,” are frequently used by corporations to silence or intimidate critics.
Roseburg Forest Products’ lawsuit came in response to the nine citizen activists voicing their concerns about their small city losing access to a vital public spring water source to the interests of the private logging company. RFP’s attorneys asserted that they were just trying to resolve legal ownership issues regarding the water supply, but neither WCWC nor the nine people RFP’s attorneys named in the suit had ever made any personal claim to the rights or title to the water supply — a fact the law firm admitted at the time. Yet even with that knowledge, the law firm appealed the court rulings and dragged the defendants through two more years of legal proceedings.
Several of the nine activists are former mayors — some who are now in their 80s and 90s. The activists had participated in town meetings and taken other grassroots actions as members of WCWC, to educate their community about the threat to their water supply. After writing a letter requesting assistance from a state agency, and speaking out during a local meeting, they found themselves in court being sued by a $900 million timber company. We hope to move forward with the merits of the lawsuit soon.
Protect the Protest Coalition
The national Protect the Protest (PtP) coalition is a core CLDC partner. Comprised of more than 60 nonprofits across the country, and with a motto of “An attack on one is an attack on all,” PtP seeks to preserve our First Amendment right to protest by taking on corporate bullies who use strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) to silence their critics. Lauren Regan, Executive Director & Senior Staff Attorney, directs the PtP legal working group, and in June 2020, CLDC brought on attorney Rebecca Chapman, in part to devote more time to putting an end to this abuse of the court system. The coalition also provides important media and campaign support for the SLAPP litigation CLDC is currently leading, and for the activists and organizations targeted by SLAPP bullies.
Protect Dissent Coalition
CLDC is a proud member of the national Protect Dissent Coalition, which serves as a watchdog network that tracks and responds to repressive legislation being introduced across the United States that threatens the right to lawful protest. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits the government from enacting laws that “abridge” freedom of speech; people’s right to peaceably assemble; and the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances. Despite this fundamental right, an avalanche of repressive and unconstitutional bills — many drafted by the rightwing “American Legislative Exchange Council” (ALEC) — are targeting protest campaigns. If your campaign or community is threatened by chilling, unconstitutional laws, remember that this type of repression historically occurs when activists are being effective. CLDC has your back! Contact us for legal support!