April 21, 2023 – After seven years of litigation, a federal judge in Oakland has dismissed at summary judgment the remaining claims in a sprawling lawsuit that pitted the largest timber company in Canada with one of its fiercest critics, Greenpeace.
Greenpeace was jointly represented in the matter by Davis Wright Tremaine and Klaris Law. Lance Koonce (Klaris) argued the motion, and the case was led by Laura Handman at DWT, along with Chelsea Kelly, Sarah Burns, Meenakshi Krishnan, Roxanne Elings, Nicole Phillis, Thomas R. Burke, and (formerly of DWT) Lisa Zycherman.
The case was originally filed in Augusta, Georgia and the original, 400-page complaint included claims for alleged violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) and state conspiracy laws, as well as defamation claims, all based on Greenpeace's environmental advocacy relating to the practices of Resolute Forest Products, Inc.
The Greenpeace Defendants successfully moved to have the case transferred to the Northern District of California, where Judge Jon S. Tigar dismissed all of Resolute's claims, without prejudice. Resolute then filed an amended complaint, and in January 2019, Judge Tigar dismissed Resolute's RICO and related claims, as well as the defamation claim based on 288 allegedly defamatory statements, leaving only two statements at issue, both of which related to the "Montagnes Blanches" region in northern Quebec.
Today, Judge Tigar dismissed the remaining claims on the grounds that after four years of fact and expert discovery, Resolute could not demonstrate that the two statements by Greenpeace were made with actual malice. Actual malice is a standard applied to public figures such as Resolute, and derives from the First Amendment protection for free speech.
In response to the decision, Ms. Handman said: "We are so gratified by this decision, which ends a protracted dispute that took resources and time away from the important advocacy work Greenpeace does around environmental issues. But we are beyond proud of Greenpeace's continued strong advocacy even in the face of such challenges, and in particular its advocacy for free speech issues."
Mr. Koonce added, "Today's decision demonstrates that the law can act not just as a sword, but also – especially in the case of the First Amendment – as a shield. While it is regrettable that this lawsuit was ever filed, we are hopeful that this ruling will discourage other similar lawsuits, and in any event we are thrilled for our clients, who throughout this long ordeal have lived by their maxim 'We Will Not Be Silenced'."
This lawsuit and others of its kind have acted as a catalyst for groups such as Greenpeace to mobilize against SLAPP suits targeting advocacy, especially environmental advocacy. Efforts such as the Protect the Protest taskforce seek to educate and mobilize individuals and organizations with respect to lawsuits designed to chill speech, and to get behind expanded anti-SLAPP legislation, especially at the federal level.
About Davis Wright Tremaine
Davis Wright Tremaine LLP is an AmLaw 100 law firm with approximately 700 lawyers representing clients based throughout the United States and around the world. The firm is widely recognized for having the country's leading First Amendment litigation practice. Learn more at dwt.com.
About Klaris Law
Klaris is a boutique media, entertainment, technology, and intellectual property law firm that guides clients through a changing IP and digital environment as a partner, advisor, and resource. Learn more at klarislaw.com.
Mark Fefer, Head of PR (Davis Wright Tremaine), 206.757.8583 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Ed Klaris, Principal (Klaris Law), 917.822.7468 or email@example.com