SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 22, 2019 (Press Release) -A federal court in California issued a landmark decision today in a free speech case with serious implications for the future of advocacy work in the United States.
District Judge Jon S. Tigar of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California had previously dismissed the entire case and ordered the logging company to pay defendants’ legal fees in October 2017. However, Resolute Forest Products decided to file a repackaged version of the same baseless claims three weeks later.
According to today’s order, the controversial free speech case brought against Stand.earth, Greenpeace, and individual defendants is completely dismissed with regard to Stand.earth and Todd Paglia, Stand.earth’s executive director. The case brought by Resolute had so little merit that the judge also ruled the case was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) for the state law claims and that Resolute would be forced to pay attorneys fees for Stand.earth. This is a massive rebuke to Resolute, who has already spent millions of dollars attempting to silence its biggest critics.
Nearly all of the lawsuit against Greenpeace was dismissed, including the highly controversial racketeering charges under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act, and the vast majority of defamation claims. (A similar defamation case in Ontario, Canada brought by Resolute against Greenpeace Canada is still pending.)
In response to the decision, Stand.earth issued the following statements:
“Resolute is now a two-time legal loser. It lost this case twice in the last year, spent millions trying to silence critics, will spend more on our lawyer fees, made itself a free speech pariah, alienated its customers, distracted its senior staff — and lost anyway. Companies would do well to examine Resolute’s spectacular record of failure in trying to silence its critics — and avoid following in its sleazy footsteps.” -Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.earth
The decision sets a precedent that activities conducted by the defendants to draw attention to Resolute’s unsustainable clearcutting in the Canadian boreal forest are legitimate advocacy protected by the First Amendment. The judge’s decision sends a clear message that unfettered corporate attacks on free speech will not stand up in court.
“The right to free speech is one of the core pillars of our democracy, and today a federal court upheld that right. This decision comes during a vital time in America’s history — a time when it has never been more important for citizens to loudly advocate against companies and governments that sacrifice the public good for private gain.” -Todd Paglia, Executive Director, Stand.earth
The case is one of the first in what many have predicted might be a new corporate strategy to challenge advocacy groups and individuals who speak out against bad corporate behavior. In August 2017 in North Dakota, Energy Transfer Partners, the owners of the Dakota Access Pipeline, filed a copycat racketeering lawsuit against Greenpeace and others. Energy Transfer Partners is represented by the same law firm as Resolute — Kasowitz Benson Torres LLC, which is President Donald Trump’s go-to law firm.
In September 2018, Stand.earth and a coalition of major NGOs launched Protect the Protest — a global task force that takes aim against corporations and people in positions of power that use strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) to limit free speech and silence critics. The goal of the task force is to expose courtroom bullying, defeat and stop SLAPP suits, and defend the pillars of democracy by protecting everyone’s right to protest and free speech.