Texas Ruling Shows the Benefits We’d Get From a Federal Anti-SLAPP Law–American Heritage Capital v. Gonzalez

By Eric Goldman

American Heritage Capital, LP v. Dinah Gonzalez and Alan Gonzalez, No. DC-11-13741-C (Texas District Court April 13, 2012). The amended complaint. The defendant’s anti-SLAPP motion.

This may be the first application of Texas’ new anti-SLAPP law to Internet postings. It’s a fine example why Texas enacted the law in the first place. And it’s a good preview of the benefits we could get from federal anti-SLAPP protection.

American Heritage Capital is an online lender. Apparently, AHC didn’t fund a loan requested by Mrs. Gonzalez, and Mr. Gonzalez posted critical remarks about AHC at multiple websites (including Zillow, CreditKarma and Ripoff Report). Allegedly, AHC’s president then sent Mrs. Gonzalez an email threatening her if she didn’t remove the posts, including the following passage:

You started this. You can end it. Otherwise I will end it for you, and it won’t be pretty.

AHC then sued the Gonzalezs in October 2011. In January, AHC voluntarily dropped the lawsuit against Mrs. Gonzalez. (I asked AHC’s lawyer why it did so, but the lawyer declined comment; the fact that Mr. Gonzalez admitted he made the posts may have had something to do with it). In March, the court dismissed the lawsuit with prejudice and made Mr. Gonzalez eligible for anti-SLAPP fee-shifting. Last week, the court granted the fee-shift, awarding Mr. Gonzalez:

* over $15k in attorneys’ fees

* another $15k in sanctions

* additional financial concessions if AHC challenges this ruling on appeal and loses

Sadly, this situation is all too common. The Gonzalezs griped online about their experiences as consumers, AHC allegedly tried to bully the posts off the Internet, then AHC tried to use the court system to bully the posts offline. In states without anti-SLAPP laws (or with inadequate ones), AHC almost certainly gets its desired outcome (the content removed) to the detriment of other prospective consumers. Instead, thanks to Texas’ new anti-SLAPP law, the Gonzalezs win quickly and the plaintiff writes a non-trivial check for their troubles (2x the attorneys fees). These are the kinds of outcomes I wish we’d see across the country, not just in Texas and California and a few other states with reasonably strong anti-SLAPP laws. That’s another reason why I support federal anti-SLAPP legislation.

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