Civil liberties group says developer’s SLAPP lawsuit attempts to squelch protected speechMONTGOMERY COUNTY, VA – The ACLU of Virginia filed legal papers today in Montgomery County Circuit Court on behalf of a Christiansburg resident who has been sued by developer Roger W. Woody for complaining about a large mound of dirt on one of Woody’s properties.
Woody is seeking more than $10,000,000 in damages from Terry Ellen Carter and three other Christiansburg residents who have been critical of the dirt pile and other debris. In his lawsuit, Woody claims that Carter’s website, ThinkChristiansburg.com, injured him by referring to the dirt pile as “ Mount Woody” and publishing a picture of the pile on which the word “Woodyville” is superimposed.
“If you have the right to picket, to organize boycotts, or to write editorials in the local newspaper expressing your views on a product or actions by a local business, then surely you can complain on a website about a developer who creates a mound of unsightly dirt in your town,” said ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis.
“This is a classic SLAPP suit, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” added Willis, “wherein someone with considerable means sues someone who complains in order to to shut them up. Almost invariably, the expense of defending oneself against such a suit, even when it is without merit, is so costly that the complainer gives in and becomes silent.”
“Free speech means you have a right to express your opinion of others,” said Willis, “and that is all Ms. Carter has done. It is disturbing to think that in the United States a business or an individual can stop someone from having an opinion of them.”
ACLU cooperating attorney Jonathan Rogers of Floyd County and ACLU of Virginia Legal Director Rebecca K. Glenberg filed a “demurrer” today in which they asked the court to dismiss Woody’s case against Carter. In the demurrer, Rogers and Glenberg write that Woody’s claims-- that Carter and others illegally conspired to undermine his business, that they purposely interfered with his business operations, and that they committed libel -- are groundless and that the First Amendment protects Carter’s right to criticize the dirt pile.
A copy of the demurrer is available at http://www.acluva.org/docket/pleadings/carter_demurrer.pdf.
Kent Willis or Rebecca K. Glenberg, Esq. (804) 644-8022 Jonathan Rogers, Esq., (540) 745-8686 Terry Ellen Carter, (540) 558-9507