SLAPPed: A Tool for Activists


The right to speak your mind and fight for what you believe in without – or in spite of – reprisal, is one of our nation’s oldest and dearest principles. But for just as long, there have been powerful forces that prefer it when people simply stay silent.

Whether the year is 2015 or 1815, these forces have always proved willing to use whatever tools they can muster to silence their critics. Often, they turn to the legal system, where their superior resources can help them make life very difficult for those who dare to challenge them.

As these legal tactics have evolved, they have been a given a name. Today we call them Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP suits.

Their goal is not victory in the courtroom. It’s much simpler than that. Their goal is to send this very clear message:

“Exercise your First Amendment rights at your own peril.”

This message represents the polar opposite of everything the American Civil Liberties Union stands for. We have little concern for the ever-evolving partisan disagreements and economic realities that prompt these SLAPP suits. Our stake in this issue is much larger.

Our court system should be a place where we are all treated equally in the eyes of the law. It should not be a place where the powerful use their abundance of resources to enact revenge on those who see the world through different eyes.

What future is there for freedom of speech if we allow those who speak out to be bled dry and turned into an example of what happens when you stand up to speak your mind?

SLAPP suits pervert our legal system by turning it into a war of attrition, a place where who is right and who is wrong does not matter nearly as much as who has the most resources.

The good news is that you can fight back.

  • Here you will find of compilation of resources on SLAPP suits, including what to do if you are hit with one.
  • Here you will learn that these suits are often without legal merit and can be overcome with tenacity and knowledge.
  • Here you will learn what other states are doing to reign in out those who try to abuse the court system with frivolous SLAPP litigation.
  • Most importantly, here you will see that the ACLU remains committed to defending the First Amendment, no matter how powerful the opposition.

 

ACLU of Ohio Files Brief on Behalf of Free Speech in Another Lawsuit 

Murray, et al. v. Ciocia, et al.

The right to speak your mind and fight for what you believe is one of our nation’s oldest and dearest principles. But for just as long, there have been powerful forces that prefer it when people simply stay silent. That’s why the ACLU of Ohio filed an amicus brief July 16, 2015 to defend two protesters from a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP) filed by Ohio coal magnate Robert E. Murray. Read the press release and brief.

ACLU of Ohio Wins Dismissal of a Classic SLAPP Suit

Robert E. Murray, et al. v. The Huffington Post.com, Inc.

In September 2013, a journalist for the Huffington Post named Mr. Stark posted an article titled “Meet the Extremist Coal Baron Bankrolling Ken Cuccinelli’s Campaign.” The article was highly critical of Murray Energy Corporation, and its owner, Robert E. Murray. Mr. Stark stated that Murray laid off over one hundred employees, making good on a threat to fire employees if Obama won reelection. Mr. Stark also stated that Mr. Murray was an “extremist billionaire” who “fires his workforce wholesale in fits of spite when electoral results disappoint him.”

In response to this article, Mr. Murray initiated a SLAPP suit alleging defamation, false light and invasion of privacy against the Huffington Post and Mr. Stark. We represented Mr. Stark because his comments are protected Free Speech under the First Amendment, as he was merely stating his own opinion. On November 27, 2013, we filed a motion to dismiss, and on May 12, 2014, Hon. Judge Gregory L. Frost upheld our motion and dismissed the lawsuit.

For more information on this case, visit our legal docket.

Read our May 15, 2014 press release related to the case, and the announcement of our online tool kit.


DISCLAIMER – The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. The information regarding SLAPP suits is meant to provide the public with general information as part of our on-going educational efforts. Every case depends on the specific facts and circumstances involved. To submit a complaint for review, please go to our Need Legal Help page. Do not wait for a response from us. Your problem may have a deadline for legal action. Seek help from an attorney immediately. We may contact you for further information.