Haynes and Boone Lawyers Obtain Dismissal for KTRK under Texas Anti-SLAPP Statute


AUSTIN – On behalf of Houston ABC affiliate KTRK Television, Inc., Haynes and Boone, LLP lawyers have obtained a First District Court of Appeals dismissal of a defamation lawsuit under the application of Texas’ anti-strategic lawsuit against public participation (anti-SLAPP) statute and due to lack of sufficient proof.

The Austin-based team of Partner Laura Lee Prather and Of Counsel Catherine Robb represented KTRK.

“This is a great example of why the anti-SLAPP statute was created to protect freedom of speech,” said Prather. “With the court’s application, we were successful in defending KTRK each time the plaintiff sued. This case serves as a good example of how third-party user content cannot support a claim, especially in today’s technologically-evolved world.”

Theaola Robinson, founder of a charter school named Benji’s Special Education Academy, filed a suit against KTRK, claiming a 2010 broadcast news reports and online articles about state agency charges of mismanagement and accounting irregularities were defamatory. Robinson also contended that public comments posted on KTRK’s website established the defamatory nature of the broadcasts.

The appeals court found that “because Robinson has not adduced clear and specific evidence that the challenged statements made by KTRK in its broadcasts and reports are defamatory per se, she has not made a prima facie case for each essential element of her defamation claim against KTRK.” Additionally, the appeals court ruled that KTRK’s report was not specific enough to support Robinson’s suit.

Under Texas law, to qualify as defamation per se a statement must “unambiguously charge a crime, dishonesty, fraud, rascality or general depravity,” the appeals court said. The appeals court also found that Robinson’s dependence on negative third-party comments posted on the news stations website was misplaced.

At Haynes and Boone, Prather and Robb are members of the firm’s Business Litigation Practice Group. Prather is the lead author and negotiator of the anti-SLAPP statute, the reporters’ privilege bill, and the newly enacted retraction statute, and together with Robb, they advise clients concerning media law issues for an extensive array of content providers.

The case is KTRK Television Inc. v. Robinson, case number 01-12-00372-CV, in the First District Court of Appeals for the State of Texas.

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