Property Rights

Texas Appeals Court Rejects Developer's Defamation Claims

|

This week a Texas appeals court threw out nearly all of Dallas developer H. Walker Royall's defamation lawsuit against Carla Main, author of Bulldozed, a 2007 book about eminent domain abuse, and her publisher, Encounter Books. Royall—who initially sued not only Main and Encounter but also a newspaperthat that published a review of the book, along with University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein, who provided a blurb for it—did not like the way he was portrayed in Main's discussion of a marina project in Freeport, Texas, that involved seizing land from a local shrimping business. In November 2009, the trial court rejected Main and Encounter's argument that Royall's lawsuit should be dismissed because Bulldozed is protected by the First Amendment. But Texas law allows the immediate appeal of such decisions, and yesterday the Court of Appeals for the 5th District of Texas ruled that Royall had failed to specify anything in the book that defamed him. "We have examined the 79 grounds in the no-evidence motion that address statements in the book and have concluded that Royall did not raise a genuine issue of material fact regarding any of the grounds," the court said.

That conclusion is remarkable given the highly favorable standard that Royall enjoyed at this stage of the case. He would have been allowed to proceed if he had offered "more than a scintilla of evidence" on each of three points required to win: 1) that the defendant published a statement of fact, 2) that the statement was defamatory, and 3) that the defendant acted with "actual malice" regarding the truth of the statement (in a case involving a public figure). Furthermore, Royal was entitled to "every reasonable inference" and the benefit of any doubt. Yet in the appeals court's judgment, he had essentially no chance of prevailing on any of his allegations concerning the book. The only remaining issues, which were sent back to the trial court for further consideration, relate to whether Main and Encounter "aided, abetted, and ratified others' defamatory statements" about Royall. 

"Walker Royall has failed in his attempt to use this frivolous defamation lawsuit as a weapon to silence his critics," says Dana Berliner, a senior attorney at the Institute for Justice, which is representing Main and Encounter.  "The appeals court has exposed the frivolity of Royall's lawsuit, holding that Royall failed to prove that a single word of Bulldozed defames him."

That is the positive spin. Here is the negative spin: In our system of justice, rich people with thin skins don't need any evidence to drag their critics into an expensive, time-consuming, anxiety-provoking legal process that lasts for years. For any journalist who has ever wondered whether he could be sued over something he wrote that reflected badly on someone (which some of us do several times a day), the answer is yes: You can be sued over anything. The suit may not be legally successful, but if the plaintiff's goal is to punish you for the offense you caused him and make you (and everyone else) think twice before writing about him again, he wins whether or not he ultimately can prevail in court. 

Previous coverage of Royall's lawsuit against Main here and here.

NEXT: No FAA Authorization Means No Airline Taxes. Predictably, Flyers Still Get Screwed.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Here is the negative spin: In our system of justice, rich people with thin skins don’t need any evidence to drag their critics into an expensive, time-consuming, anxiety-provoking legal process that lasts for years.

    Which tort reform should help minimize, as “loser pays” would make this thin-skinned asshole pay TWICE for his bruised ego instead of only once.

    1. “Loser pays” is still a crapshoot and does not guarantee that the guilty will always pay. Sometimes the innocent will lose (and pay). Is it worth it?

      1. Re: But,

        Is it worth it?

        YES, even it it’s a crapshoot. Instead, the other way around, it becomes a tool for rich bullies.

        1. One could argue that “loser pays” would discourage poor people from seeking justice, for fear of losing twice (ethically and monetarily), putting the justice system out of reach of ordinary citizens.

          1. [Also what Ken Shultz said below]
            https://reason.com/blog/2011/07…..nt_2416109

          2. “loser pays” would discourage poor people from seeking justice…putting the justice system out of reach of ordinary citizens.

            To the proponents of “loser pays” and “tort reform,” that’s a feature, not a bug.

            What about other ideas, like

            (1) loser lawyer pays?

            (2) a cap on attorney fees (say, $1,000)?

        2. This, plus being able to sue the government and all its tentacles.

        3. OM-

          The rule you propose would be operate to the detriment of justice as even fewer lawyers would file actions seeking to restrain / punish government.

          Example: You are a dentist in the state of Massachusetts. You are married to a woman who is a nurse that gave it up, including her license to practice nursing.

          She initiates an affair. She develops a steady relationship with her paramour. She then files for divorce seeking a lopsided division of marital assets and alimony.

          You, as one of the very few dentists in America who practices biological denistry and does not use mercury, naturally do not take well to the first three lawyers you retain as you conclude that they are too genuflectional to the court and to the system. You demand that they resist your wife’s request for alimony upon constitutional grounds. The lawyers laugh at you.

          The judge, a lesbian weighing close to 400 pounds and appointed by self-described “libertarian” William Weld, gives your wife more than 50% of the marital assets and awards alimony in the amount of $1,200.00 per WEEK.

          So, you pay the damn alimony for several years. Then you run into a lawyer who tells you that, in his opinion, judicially imposed, non-consensual alimony is unconstitutional. You like what he has to say though you note that he is not like most lawyers.

          Then, your wife files a motion to increase her alimony to $1,500.00 per WEEK. What do you do?

          DO you have the lawyer you recently met defend the matter and assert constitutional defenses to alimony?

          If your rule were in effect, how many lawyers would dare stand up to the alimony mafia?

          1. I can feel your anger…

            1. So can the dentist.

          2. She initiates an affair. She develops a steady relationship with her paramour

            I had an affair with my paramour. 6.2hp with power drive. Man that thing could cut grass.

    2. But our new loser pays law only applies to a select number of areas and I don’t believe this is covered.

  2. Not sure why Royall’s attorney can’t be required to pay for the defense’s exhibits under the existing “frivolous claim” rule.

    Its probably in the opinion somewhere, but TLTR.

  3. “but if the plaintiff’s goal is to punish you for the offense you caused him…”

    Well, then, punish them back. The cost of wasting years of my time certainly isn’t cheap, especially if the time-waster is rich. A portion of funds procured via lawsuit would go towards a half-hour paid show documenting the actions of this Texas shitstain. Royall requires a loud and public shaming for possessing the raw arrogance to bring this suit in the first place. If anything, Main gets a second book out of it.

  4. Dats pronounced “Shrimpin’ Bidness.”

  5. Boohoo, an author was the target of a baseless and abusive lawsuit. Join the club.

    Unfortunately, abusive lawsuits by the rich and powerful aren’t just limited to going after authors. Big companies, unions and “activist” employee abusive lawsuits all the time to wrest economic advantage from smaller businesses and individuals.

    The process is the punishment. Loser pays would end most lawsuit abuse as would the courts allowing counter-suits for meritless claims.

    How did we get to the point where having to bankrupt yourself to prove you did nothing wrong is considered a just outcome? If somebody claims you harmed them and drag you through the court system forcing you to spend vast amounts of money, time and experience huge levels of stress over years or months, then they owe you serious compensation. In any other context, such a baseless attack would provoke outrage.

    Unfortunately, essentially random lawsuits funnel a shocking amount of money to the Democrats and various “activist” groups so we won’t see any such reforms anytime soon. Beyond their greedy self-interest, they’re to obsessed with the idea that anything that hurts business is “social justice.”

    As much as I hate to say it, if more evil rich people launch baseless lawsuits against authors, journalist, academics, activist and the like, we might get the reforms we need. The special privileges we’ve granted to articulate intellectuals over the last century have created an entitled class of highly influential people who have no idea of the trouble they create for the rest of us.

    A little goose sauce on their privileged gander would do us all some good.

    1. The special privileges we’ve granted to articulate intellectuals over the last century have created an entitled class of highly influential people who have no idea of the trouble they create for the rest of us.

      They know the trouble they create, they just don’t care.

      1. To them that is a feature, not a bug.

  6. I didn’t know Tiny Tim was alive, much less on a book tour.

    1. I was going to ask if I’m allowed to say ‘Man what a punchable face’ if the possessor of said face is a sympathetic figure in the article and female. But, man, what a punchable face.
      -K

      1. just dont call anyone a sheep fucker.

    2. I thought Severus Snape.

      1. I really thought it was Snape too – picture was the first thing I looked at

  7. I’m not a Texas attorney, but aren’t sanctions available under Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 13 or some such thing?

    1. For the feds, it is rule 11.

      For most states it is also their Rule 11 of Civil Procedure as most states revised their rules of Civil Procedure to mirror the Feds back in the late 1960s and 70s.

  8. No offense to Ms. Main… but did anyone else think that was a picture of Severus Snape at first?

    I can’t be the only one.

    1. It’s Tiny. TIM. Jonas…

      1. Sorry, but see my comment below. I swear, she’s the personification of Droopy.

      2. Um, no… a Google Image search suggests I’m way closer.

        Of course, I was the judge and jury of that contest, so… yeah.

    2. I saw Snape too.

    3. I should have read down here before commenting above. Yup.

  9. “Loser pays would end most lawsuit abuse…”

    Then you just end up with the other side of the problem–poor people can’t sue rich people because they don’t have the money to cover the legal costs of the rich if they lose?

    You’re gonna end up with rich people blowing huge wads on their defense to intimidate poor people into dropping their suits?

    Want to let the judge assign court fees to people who bring frivolous lawsuits, be my guest. But loser pays rules would cause more problems than they solve. …and this case ended exactly as it should have anyway.

    1. The rest of the Anglosphere muddles along with it just fine. America is the only legal system descended from English common law in which loser pays is not automatic.

      You’re gonna end up with rich people blowing huge wads on their defense to intimidate poor people into dropping their suits?

      Traditionally, there are fixed cost and ratios to limit abuse but the greatest protection is not sue unless you have a firm case. Lawsuits shouldn’t be like wildcat drilling were you hope to get lucky. A lawsuit should have a firm basis before it proceeds. If poor people are suing rich people and loosing most of the time, then they shouldn’t be suing in the first place.

      More importantly, the vast majority of lawsuits are not poor people suing rich people. We shouldn’t be building our legal system around exceptional cases.

      In fact, I feel confident that the richer individual or organization is statistically more likely to sue the poorer because the current court system provides more advantage to those with deeper pockets. The idea that lawsuits represent some kind of romantic balancing mechanism between rich and poor is largely fictional. In most cases, the richer party is quicker to sue because they can afford to win or lose.

      1. What about constitutional challenges to laws or government practices which infringe upon your liberty and your exercise thereof?

        Should the litigant who had the stones to challenge the state now be forced to hand over even more of his property to Leviathan?

      2. The rest of the Anglosphere muddles along with it just fine. America is the only legal system descended from English common law in which loser pays is not automatic.

        The UK court system is a mess. You think we should emulate their libel laws too? If not, then stfu about “America is the only common law system that blah blah blah”. You sound like an Obamacare supporter.

        Lawsuits shouldn’t be like wildcat drilling were you hope to get lucky. A lawsuit should have a firm basis before it proceeds. If poor people are suing rich people and loosing most of the time, then they shouldn’t be suing in the first place.

        There are never any guarantees in the legal system. If you have even a 10% chance of losing, and losing would completely ruin you financially (as would certainly be the case in a loser pays system for a rich “winner” and a poor “loser”) then it’s probably not worth the risk.

        More importantly, the vast majority of lawsuits are not poor people suing rich people. We shouldn’t be building our legal system around exceptional cases.

        Few lawsuits are frivolous either, but you seem balls to the wall on revamping the legal system to deal with those.

        In fact, I feel confident that the richer individual or organization is statistically more likely to sue the poorer because the current court system provides more advantage to those with deeper pockets.

        And your solution is to make that tendency even stronger? You really need a monocle and tophat to make this position convincing.

        In most cases, the richer party is quicker to sue because they can afford to win or lose.

        Ever heard of lawyers working on contingency? It’s actually a good thing, though you probably don’t like it because it makes it easier for poor people to get uppity and sue when they get harmed by the rich.

      3. And Shannon’s Anglophilic is doubly ironic of course, since if the developer had sued the author in English courts he almost certainly would have won. And then she’d have to pay his legal fees.

  10. Dan anyone else picture this lady saying “I’m happy,” in the voice of Droopy?

  11. You mean rich people can exploit existing social structures for their own selfish ends? That they, perhaps, have an unfair advantage over the rest of us poor dweebs? Am I really reading “Reason”? (WTF!)

    1. STOP SPELLING MY NAME WRONG!

      1. Don’t worry, Alan… eventually, private property will be a thing of the past. Like that dusty old Constitution that one weasel said was, like, a hundred years old.

    2. I like the misdirection of saying the rich are exploiting “social structures” and not recognizing that it was an abusive use of the government for both the eminent domain issue and the frivolous law suit.

      Nope, the government wasn’t involved in this abuse of power at all. It was “social structures”.

    3. It’s not a “social system” its a legal system that was warped by romantic idealist who didn’t understand it and who could not predict the longterm effects of their “reforms.”

      We had a system that had evolved over the centuries to strike a balance between all the competing interest and sources of unfairness but self-appointed “reformers” decided that they knew better and they sacrificed centuries of evolved experience on the alter of their own short-term goals.

      Now without the evolved safeguards, those with money and power have hijacked the reforms for their own ends. This is the way it always turns out. Nobody can design from scratch a real-world system like a legal system or the economy. They have to evolve through experimentation through trial and error.

      1. Maybe you should get in a time machine and go back to Georgian England in 1750 or so. You don’t seem to like it here.

        1. Please see my post above.

          Is it okay to take on Leviathan by litigation?

          1. It depends. Since the government’s duty is to coerce, it would be the constant target of lawsuits if such suits were allowed, even in the absence of egregious abuses. Also its defense from lawsuits is financed by taxpayers.

  12. Where is the anarchist fringe to remind us that the justice system is rigged by The Man and no amount of tort reform will remedy in inherently corrupt system because it’s run by Government Thugs?

  13. Where’s that whiny cunt that only pulls his head out of Ayn Rand’s decomposing ass long enough to ask stoopid pointless questions(and complain, whine, bitch, etc, etc)?

    Oh there it is, sorry guy missed you there.

    1. Nice obligatory (if not bizarre) Ayn Rand insult, but I digress. If my comment was “stoopid” you should have ignored it. The fact that you commented indicates–how do the kids say–a “hurt butt.” I’m so sorry I hurt your butt. It will heal, as you well know.

      1. RANDBOT KNOWS INTERWEB MEMES! WATCHOUT!!

        MOOCHERS R TEH BUTTHURT
        MOOCHERS R TEH BUTTHURT

        HAHAHA!!

        1. Again, I’m so sorry I hurt your butt. You seem to be taking it badly. It’s inexcusable for adults to pick on children, and I apologize.

          1. …thanks for coming back an hour later to check on it, P.

            Here’s some anti-Monkey Butt powder for you. Cause we know who’s really butthurt here.

            and a sad face for you, too 🙁

          2. Looks like you hit a nerve there, Puzzled. Anarchists can be so sensitive! Maybe it’s cuz nobody takes them seriously?

            1. I’m no anarchist Billy Bitch. I just have a low tolerance for catty randbots who get their ideas from poorly written novels.

              You a randbot too, cunt?

              1. Cunt?
                HAHAHA!!

                1. Billy Bitch?
                  HAHAHA!

          3. RANDBOT KNOWS INTERWEB MEMES! WATCHOUT!!

            MOOCHERS R TEH BUTTHURT
            MOOCHERS R TEH BUTTHURT

            HAHAHA!!

            1. HAHAHA!!

              1. Let me guess you’re a ‘producer’ like dash above. And by producer, I mean another ‘above it all’ fucker that ‘produces’ anonymous catty comments directed at Reason commenters.

                1. CAPITOL L IS PARANOID CONSPIRACY THEORIST!
                  HAHAHA!!

                  1. If you really want to be Robin to anonypussy’s batman, go ahead, Billy, but don’t say I didn’t warn you.

                    1. HAHAHAHA!!

                    2. I actually thought the last one was pretty good, meh, can’t please everybody.

                    3. Speaking of Batman, did you try out to be an extra in TDKR? I heard they were looking for fat ugly guys but they still rejected me after I wasted a Sunday at the tryouts.

                    4. No, I, like Steve Smith, prefer not to be captured on film(digital or otherwise).

                    5. Whatever happened with them paying the city to blow up Mellon? Was that just a rumor, because now the city going to spend $millions to demolish it?

  14. For the past two months, I’ve been trying to get Jefferson County (Colorado) District Attorney Scott Storey to prosecute me under Colorado’s “criminal libel” statute for publicizing the following:

    http://www.JonahHunt.com

    – On August 26, 2009, Jonah G. Hunt, a collections attorney with HindmanSanchez (Arvada, Colorado), prepared an “attorney summary in the form of an excel spreadsheet for application of payments argument”.” This was submitted as Plaintiff’s Exhibit No. 4 in Jefferson County (Colorado) case # 2008 C 62579. The evidence Jonah Hunt fabricated was a fraudulent ledger of my account.

    – On August 28, 2009, Jonah G. Hunt and his client, Michael D. Weiss of LCM Property Management Company (Denver, Colorado) conspired to lie under oath in a court of law.

    – On August 31, 2009, both Jonah G. Hunt and Michael D. Weiss lied under oath in a court of law.

    – On September 09, 2009, Jonah G. Hunt submitted fraudulent Motions and Affidavits for Attorney Fees to the Honorable Judge Tammy Greene, inflating the cost incurred by the plaintiff, Madison Hill H.O.A. Inc., by an amount between $766.25 to $7,992.10.

    – On October 02, 2009, Jonah G. Hunt submitted a fraudulent “Reply in Support of Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs” to the Honorable Judge Tammy Greene, again inflating the cost incurred by the plaintiff, Madison Hill H.O.A. Inc., by an amount between $766.25 to $7,992.10.

    – Although Jonah Hunt denies it, HindmanSanchez was working on a contingency basis for Madison Hill H.O.A. Inc.

    – Since October 07, 2009, the Board of Directors of Madison Hill H.O.A. Inc. have been repeatedly and willfully violating a Court Order issued by the Honorable Judge Tammy Greene.

    There is no question that the above statements constitute libel. In a Motion filed with Jefferson County (Colorado) District Court on May 03, 2011, case # 2010 CV 4032, attorneys from HindmanSanchez — Jonah Hunt, William Short, and Loura Sanchez — have stated that these allegations are “unfounded and libelous” (“Defendant’s Response In Opposition To Plaintiff’s Second Motion To File An Amended Complaint.” May 03, 2011. Paragraph 10).

    Not only is libel a civil offense, but Colorado is a state that actively enforces its criminal libel statute.

    18-13-105. Criminal libel.

    (1) A person who shall knowingly publish or disseminate, either by written instrument, sign, pictures, or the like, any statement or object tending to blacken the memory of one who is dead, or to impeach the honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation or expose the natural defects of one who is alive, and thereby to expose him to public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, commits criminal libel.

    (2) It shall be an affirmative defense that the publication was true, except libels tending to blacken the memory of the dead and libels tending to expose the natural defects of the living.

    (3) Criminal libel is a class 6 felony.

    Source: L. 71: R&RE;, p. 484, ? 1. C.R.S. 1963: ? 40-13-105. L. 73: p. 540, ? 14. L. 77: (1) amended, p. 971, ? 65, effective July 1. L. 89: (3) amended, p. 842, ? 102, effective July 1.

    The Colorado Supreme Court has even ruled that it is constitutional to place on the defendant the burden of proving truth. See People v. Ryan, 806 P.2d 935 (Colo. 1991).

    Even though this should be an easy felony conviction for any prosecutor to obtain, the D.A.’s office refuses to charge me with any crime.

    I wonder why.

    1. I guess that’s an interesting experiment and maybe he sees through it dunno.

      But what got my attention is that Colorado law itself. So very common in all states, but that is just a terribad law for a felony.

      Vague, subjective, appealing to sentiment, no rational measure whatsoever, no way for logical consistency in its application (i.e. why this guy got off while that guy didn’t)

    2. Cool story, bro

  15. That’s why you always tell the truth anonymously, so that worms’ warts can’t hog your walnuts.

  16. I have to laugh at a bonehead who would not only sue newspapers for publishing reviews, but sue someone for blurbing a book! I’d have loved to hear the conversation in which he convinced his attorney to do that.

    1. I’d have loved to hear the conversation

      H. Walker Royal: Here’s half a million. Crush ’em.

      Attorney: OK.

      1. HAHAHA!!

        1. HAHAHAHA!!

          1. Adding gratuitous letters does not increase the funniness, but each letter does increase the glib factor by 4.8.

            1. Don’t forget the units; glib is measured in Tulpas/sec.

              1. HAHAHA!!

                1. HAHAHAHAHA!!!

  17. In California, where a lawsuit arises out of the exercise of free speech (such as writing a book), it is called a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation). The defendant can bring a motion that requires the plaintiff to show, not just a scintilla of evidence, but sufficient evidence to support a prima facie case, or the suit is dismissed and the plaintiff is responsible for the defendant’s attorney’s fees.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.