Activists Defeat Coal Industry SLAPP Suit

Publisher Name: 
Center for Food Safety & Int'l. Center for Technology Assessment

Contact:

Joseph Mendelson or Mark Helm

(202) 547-9359 or (202) 783-7400 ext. 102

Environmental groups hailed a federal court's dismissal of a major lawsuit
filed by the coal industry that had sought to silence debate on global
warming and impose massive damages for the groups' global warming publicity.
The lawsuit attacked the groups for running a newspaper advertisement in the
New York Times on December 13, 1999, entitled "Global Warming-How Will It
End?" The advertisement highlighted the causes, potential impacts and
possible solutions to global warming and mentioned "coal" as a cause.

The environmental groups had denounced the lawsuit as a classic SLAPP
(Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). SLAPPs are frivolous
suits by polluters and developers used to harass citizen opponents. The
lawsuit was filed last year by Western Fuels Association, an arm of the
power industry that purchases hundreds of millions of dollars of coal
annually. The suit named as defendants the Turning Point Project, the
International Center for Technology Assessment, Friends of the Earth, Ozone
Action, Earth Island Institute and the Rainforest Action Network. The
lawsuit attempted to establish a new legal precedent by invoking the federal
Lanham Act, which only applies to commercial speech among competitors, in a
case involving only political speech.

The environmental groups learned today that the federal district court in
Wyoming issued an order dismissing Western Fuels Association's lawsuit
SLAPP. The opinion by Chief Judge William Downes holds that the lawsuit was
improperly brought in Wyoming and that Western Fuels' had failed to show why
the environmental groups, based in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco,
should be sued in Wyoming. Western Fuels had contended that any statement
in the media connecting "coal" with global warming should be construed as an
attack on the Wyoming coal industry. The court rejected this argument,
holding that it "does not agree with Plaintiff's characterization that the
subject of this action is coal" and instead held the case to be one about
speech.

The court also rejected Western Fuels' argument that placement of the New
York Times advertisement on one of the environmental group's web sites
allowed the case to be filed anywhere in the country. The court held that
in this emerging area of the law "an Internet advertisement alone" is not
"sufficient to subject the advertiser to jurisdiction in the plaintiff's
home state."

Attorney Matthew F. Pawa, of Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.C.,
Washington, D.C., who represents the environmental groups, stated he was
"gratified that the court dismissed the lawsuit." Pawa further stated that
"Western Fuels' lawsuit is an obvious attempt to use a court to harass and
intimidate citizens concerned with global warming by subjecting them to
expensive litigation in an inconvenient forum."

Attorney Reed Zars of Laramie Wyoming, who also represents the environmental
groups, stated "The debate over whether the earth is flat or round did not
need to be squelched by the courts. The same is true for global warming.
Does it give us some idea of where the coal industry believes the global
warming discussion is headed that Western Fuels filed this case to stop the
discussion?"

"The environmental and human health threats of global warming are real and
serious," said Dr. Brent Blackwelder, President of Friends of the Earth.
"We are pleased that the court would not entertain a suit brought by
polluters who want to limit the ability of citizen groups to warn the public
about these risks."

Andrew Kimbrell of the Turning Point Project stated, "At a time when the
Bush Administration is turning its back on global warming, the court
effectively has sent a strong message that public debate on this critical
issue should not be censored."

Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.C. represents, consumers, investors, employees, and businesses and non-profit groups in cases involving
securities, antitrust, civil rights, consumer fraud, product liability and
environmental matters. A copy of the court's opinion can be obtained at:

Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.

1100 New York Ave., N.W., Suite 500 West

Washington, D.C. 20005

Tel: 202-408-4600

Reed Zars, Esq.

2020 Grand Avenue, Suite 522

Laramie, WY 82070

Tel: 307-745-7979

AMP Section Name:Climate Justice Initiative
  • 100 Climate Justice Initiative
  • 107 Energy