ACLU Wins Dismissal of Landlord's Retaliatory Lawsuit Against Los Angeles Tenant Activists
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LOS ANGELES–A judge today dismissed a lawsuit against a local tenants’ association and its members, who were being sued by the owner of an apartment complex in retaliation for their advocacy on behalf of the low-income tenants, the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California announced today.
“This lawsuit was an abuse of the legal process,” said Dan Tokaji, staff attorney for the ACLU of Southern California, which defended the tenants’ association. “It was brought by a well-financed neighborhood bully to intimidate tenants brave enough to stand up for their rights. Today’s ruling sends a loud and clear message that companies will pay a heavy price if they attempt to bludgeon community advocates through litigation.”
The Lincoln Place Tenants’ Association is a community-based organization that has been fighting developers’ plans to evict tenants of the Lincoln Place complex and replace their homes with luxury townhouses that would be out of reach to low- and moderate-income tenants.
Many of the people who live in the 795 units Lincoln Place, including members of the tenants’ association, are elderly, disabled, or single mothers. If their homes were destroyed, they would have nowhere else to go, the ACLU said.
On September 20, 2000, the Lincoln Place owners and developers sued the tenants’ association and 12 individual tenants in direct retaliation for their advocacy activities. The action, the ACLU said, was a classic Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”), brought by a well-financed private land development company to chill the free speech of grassroots activists.
In 1992, the California Legislature enacted strong protections against such SLAPP suits, allowing courts to throw out such litigation at an early stage and to award fees to those wrongfully sued in retaliation for exercising their free speech rights
The tenants’ association and its members filed a SLAPP motion on November 17, 2000, after the companies refused to dismiss their lawsuit. The development companies amended their complaint on December 5, 2000, dropping their claims against all but two of the individual tenants. The tenants’ association and the two remaining tenants filed a second SLAPP motion on February 5, 2001.
In dismissing the lawsuit today, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge, Gregory C. O’Brien, Jr., granted the tenants’ second SLAPP motion in its entirety. Describing the lawsuit as offensive, Judge O’Brien threw out all the developer’s claims against the tenants’ and the tenants association.
The tenants’ association will now be seeking attorneys’ fees from the Lincoln Place owners, as provided for by California’s anti-SLAPP law to punish those who abuse the legal process.
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