Federal court applies Texas anti-SLAPP statute for first time

CORPUS CHRISTI _ A federal judge has given a big boost to Texas’ anti-SLAPP statute by granting a South Texas television station’s motion to dismiss and applying the state law in federal court for the first time.

The state law adopted in 2011 was designed to thwart malicious or frivolous lawsuits that aim to chill free speech, known as strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPP lawsuits.

U.S. District Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos dismissed a challenge to the anti-SLAPP statute and the argument that it was a procedural rule that conflicted with federal rules. Ramos held that the statute creates a significant substantive First Amendment right and should be applied in federal court.

KVOA Communications, Inc. d/b/a KRIS Communications, represented by Haynes and Boone, LLP, was sued for running a series of reports about a school district’s investigation into a high school teacher-coach for inappropriate behavior with a student. The investigation uncovered more than a decade of allegations against the teacher, who had been allowed to move among school districts and keep his license to teach. The teacher sued the television station and requested more than $4 million in damages, but the judge dismissed the lawsuit.

“We are gratified that this case continues the validation of our state’s anti-SLAPP statute,” said Haynes and Boone partner Laura Lee Prather, a defense team leader who also led the way in writing the law. “The free flow of information in matters of vital public interest should not be silenced through misuse of our court system. We are proud of the work done by our client, KRIS Communications, and encouraged by the company’s vindication through the legal system.”

Prather is a board member and former president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. Other Haynes and Boone defense team members included partner Tom Williams, the vice president of the FOI Foundation of Texas; counsel Catherine L. Robb; and associate Alicia Calzada.