You may recall that over one year ago Ahmed Mohammed, who came to be known as “the clock boy” was engaged in a highly publicized dispute with Texas school administrators and law enforcement. In fact, Ahmed gained international attention and even a visit to the White House after he took a clock that closely resembled a timed bomb to his Irving, Texas high school. One of his teachers referred him to the school’s administrators. Then the legal “fireworks” began.
A homemade clock made by Ahmed Mohamed. REUTERS/Irving Texas Police Department
Mohamed Mohamed, acting on behalf of his son, Ahmed, filed litigation in Dallas County, Texas against The Blaze, Glenn Beck, the Center for Security Policy (“CSP”), CSP member Jim Hanson, Fox Television, Fox correspondent Ben Ferguson, commentator Ben Shapiro, and Irving, Texas Mayor Beth Van Duyne. The plaintiff claimed he was libeled, asserting that: (1) Glenn Beck, Jim Hanson, and Mayor Van Duyne suggested on Mr. Beck’s show that the Mohamed family staged the incident for public relations purposes; (2) Fox 4 News correspondent Ben Ferguson suggested that the incident was planned by Mohamed Mohamed; and (3) Ben Shapiro told Fox News that he thought the incident was a hoax.
Our business trial lawyers reviewed Mr. Mohamed’s lawsuit. From the onset, they thought it was without merit, if not frivolous. We know that not everything one says enjoys protection from the First Amendment, as some statements are genuinely defamatory, and outside legal protection. Our business litigation attorneys have counseled our clients on this very issue. Texas has a law, referred to as the “anti-SLAPP” statute (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). This law allows for a defendant in a defamation lawsuit to ask the court to dismiss a plaintiff’s lawsuit if it is based on any type of communication, in any medium, that is related to a “matter of public concern” or pertains to any governmental proceeding or between individuals “who join to collectively express, promote … or defend common interests.” In other words, protected speech.
When our commercial litigators reviewed Mr. Mohamed’s lawsuit it was apparent that the lawsuit failed to state precisely which of the defendants’ statements were false, and no doubt must defend the defendants’ motion to dismiss, and request for attorney fees under Texas’ anti-SLAPP law. In fact, if any of our business trial lawyers represented any of the defendants in this case, one of our first acts would be to file a motion to dismiss under that law.
Once litigation started, the defendants’ trial attorneys pounced. There is too much information to detail all the legal arguments made by the attorneys in the case. Suffice it to state that the defendants asked the court to dismiss the lawsuit and award them attorney fees since: (1) their speech was protected as that being of their opinions, commentaries and not defamatory statements of fact; (2) some of them were merely reporting on school district proceedings; (3) their statements were substantially aided by the very language in Mr. Mohamed’s lawsuit; and (4) the lawsuit was a classic case for “anti-SLAPP” law and should be dismissed. After reviewing the case and the controlling law the trial judge dismissed the lawsuit and awarded the defendants nearly $100,000.00 in attorney fees for having to defend this case.
To avoid costly business litigation, it’s critical to understand the protections and limitations of the First Amendment, especially in today’s climate of non-stop, global communication. The potential for widespread damages is instantaneous.
Our business attorneys are here to help.
Mark A. Alexander
5080 Spectrum Suite 850
Addison, Texas 75001