Appeals Court Reversal Called "Victory for Free Speech" — Hanszen Laporte Hailed for Difficult Win
December 16, 2014
Texas’ Second Court of Appeals handed a stunning victory to the appellants on December 11, 2014, unanimously reversing the 67th State District Court and dismissing defamation claims against Neal Rauhauser. Rauhauser was represented by Jeffrey L. Dorrell of the Houston law firm of Hanszen Laporte, LLP.
“This is another important victory for the right to criticize public figures on the Internet,” Dorrell said. Dorrell first became known as a protector of free speech rights when he won a case in the Texas Supreme Court in 2011 reversing the lower courts and affirming the First Amendment right of bloggers to criticize anonymously.
James McGibney sued Rauhauser and others for defamation because they criticized McGibney’s “vigilantism” in the operation of controversial websites known as “Bullyville” and “Cheaterville.” The “Bullyville” website is emblazoned with what appears to be the philosophy and business model of its owner: “Sometimes you have to be a bully to beat a bully.” Rauhauser and others sharply criticized what they characterized as the hypocrisy of McGibney’s tactics. McGibney reacted by suing Rauhauser.
“This was an outrageous example of lawsuit abuse,” said Dorrell. “McGibney filed multiple lawsuits simultaneously in federal and state courts in Texas and California against our client based on the same facts—lawsuits clearly intended to chill his right of free speech,” Dorrell added. Dorrell filed a motion to dismiss under a relatively new law called the Citizens Participation Act. The law requires a court dismissing a suit under the Act to award both attorney’s fees and sanctions — a civil penalty — to the successful party. The 67th District Court failed to act, but the court of appeals reversed and ordered the trial court to dismiss McGibney’s claims and award fees and sanctions to Rauhauser.
Rauhauser is seeking $250,000.00 in attorney’s fees and sanctions of $1,000,000.00. It is not known whether McGibney will challenge the ruling in the Texas Supreme Court. “If he does, we’re ready,” Dorrell said.