District court rules that Texas anti-SLAPP law applies in federal court

Danielle Keeton-Olsen | Libel | News | June 18, 2014

A U.S. District Court in Texas ruled that Texas’ anti-SLAPP law applies in federal courts and then dismissed a defamation claim under that statute.

The district court judge ruled on June 11 that defendants, broadcast companies operating under the name KRIS Communications, could apply the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) to a lawsuit brought by Christopher Williams.

The news organizations released stories on Williams, a teacher accused of criminal acts of a sexual nature with students in several schools. Williams sued for defamation, so the defendants moved to dismiss the case under the TCPA.

District Court Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos found that the TCPA did apply to the broadcasters and further ruled that the TCPA can be used in federal courts.

The Texas court, which is in the Fifth Circuit, looked to a Fifth Circuit opinion that applied the Louisiana anti-SLAPP law in federal court. Because there was “no material difference” between the two states’ anti-SLAPP laws, Ramos found that “anti-SLAPP statutes such as the TCPA are enforceable in federal courts.”

Catherine Robb, a partner for Haynes and Boone LLP who served as counsel to KRIS, said the court’s ruling explicitly states that anti-SLAPP laws apply in federal courts, where they could only assume they applied in the past.

“For that reason, it was a really good ruling because it was a little bit of an uncertainty because there weren’t opinions that [the courts] can point to,” Robb said.

Williams also tried to overcome the anti-SLAPP motion by claiming KRIS took too long to file the motion under the TCPA. If a defendant wants to use the TCPA to dismiss a SLAPP suit, the law states it must do so within 60 days of the “date of service of the legal action.”

Ramos ruled that KRIS and other defendants filing TCPA motions must do so within 60 days of the plaintiff’s most recent legal action, not necessarily the first legal action. Therefore, when Williams amended his complaint, it restarted the clock on the 60 days.

Turning to the application of the anti-SLAPP statute in this case, the judge concluded that the allegations against Williams were matters of public interest and were substantially true, and therefore must be dismissed under the statute.

Related Reporters Committee resources:

· SLAPP Stick: Fighting frivolous lawsuits against journalists