Charleston Animal Society calls for ‘anti-SLAPP’ law after lawsuit victory
CHARLESTON, South Carolina (WCSC) – The Charleston Animal Society has called a court ruling in a transportation company’s lawsuit a “victory for animals, advocacy and free speech.”
Charleston Carriage Works LLC sued the Charleston Animal Society, Charleston Carriage Horse Advocates and others associated with the organizations over social media posts showing his horse, “Big John”, lying on a street in downtown Charleston in 2017.
The lawsuit alleged slander and interference in their affairs.
The Charleston Animal Society said it was an example of a “SLAPP” case, which stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.”
“Strategic public participation lawsuits or SLAPP lawsuits are illegal in most states in our country, whether conservative or liberal,” Elmore said. “In fact, 32 states have anti-SLAPP laws. Most of our southern neighboring states have these laws in place, such as Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia and a bill pending in the Assembly North Carolina legislature. It’s time for South Carolina to pass an anti-SLAPP law.
SLAPP lawsuits are “often used to intimidate advocacy organizations, such as those advocating for civil rights, environmental and animal protection, women’s rights, and many others, into abandoning their advocacy efforts. advocacy due to the legal costs of defending these types of claims,” said Kay Hyman, spokesperson for the Charleston Animal Society.
Andy Brack, the publisher of Charleston City Paper, attended the press conference as a representative of the South Carolina Press Association.
“We are here today to celebrate a victory for free speech, and no pun intended, for watchdogs, because if we don’t have an environment where journalists and watchdogs can say with clarify to the public what is happening in public debate, then we are in trouble as a democracy, “said Brack. “And so I want to commend the Charleston Animal Society for standing up to this, but I consider a lawsuit frivolous It took four years for that to go away.
Brack said he hopes these types of frivolous lawsuits no longer end up in courtrooms across Charleston County and across the state.
Thirty-two states have anti-SLAPP laws on the books, Hyman said.
Legal action centered on social media video over 2017 horse-related incident
The lawsuit focused on animal advocates sharing what they call ‘eyewitness video’ of the incident involving Big John with captions and comments questioning working conditions and horse care. carriage. The transport company sued them for defamation. The court ruled that the messages were part of a public debate on a matter of public interest, which is protected by the First Amendment.
“The plaintiff falsely claimed that the animal society defamed him over a video provided by eyewitnesses, which the animal society and others released,” said the president and CEO of the Charleston Animal Society, Joe Elmore.
One of the problems was the use of the word “collapse” to describe the incident. A press release from the Charleston Animal Society quotes a passage from the court ruling regarding this word:
As to the use of the word “collapse”, the plaintiff bears the burden of presenting admissible evidence that the horse did not collapse. He failed to do so. Instead, as noted below, the Court finds that the Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on this claim on the basis that it is substantially true.
Elmore said the court sided with the Charleston Animal Society, finding it to be “honest in its claims that a horse had collapsed”.
The official report from the city of Charleston says the horse “tripped and fell” on the sidewalk. The report, published in April 2017, followed the horse’s journey from North Market Street to Church Street through Pinckney Street and then onto Meeting Street heading north.
“At approximately 323 Meeting St. (across from the FIG restaurant), the horse tripped and fell to the sidewalk,” the report said.
The Charleston Carriage Works driver called the company barn for assistance and the passengers got out of the car, the report said. Habitability officers said the horse was on its right side and barn hands were trying to free the horse from the harness and tack gear. Firefighters from the nearby Meeting Street Fire Station also helped lift the horse free from the entanglement, at which point the horse sat on its hindquarters.
“A large strap from the harness was used to lift the horse so that he could pull his hind legs out from under his body and Big John got up on all fours,” the report said.
Big John was then taken back to the CCW barn and the whole incident lasted 11 minutes, the report said.
City of Charleston Habitability Director Dan Riccio said the horse suffered minor scratches to the left rear hock and right front elbow. Immediately after the fall, the horse sat up and was helped to stand, he said.
Tommy Goldstein, an attorney representing Charleston Carriage Works, referred us to a statement calling the Charleston Animal Society “a political and public relations giant, but we are determined to seek the truth despite their well-funded attempts to trump it.” ‘attrition and misrepresentation’.
He added that legal disputes are better resolved in courtrooms than in dueling press conferences, and said summary judgment is only a first step. Charleston Carriage Works filed an appeal to reconsider the case on Thursday.
In that earlier statement, Goldstein said it’s important to note that no jury has yet assessed the facts of the case.
“The Charleston Animal Society has more than $28 million in assets and receives more than $5,500 from Charleston County taxpayers every day,” he said.
A judge denied the transportation company’s two requests for reconsideration on August 2.
The Charleston Animal Society says it is not opposed to working animals, “as long as the conditions under which they work are humane.”
“The Charleston Animal Society believes that the public deserves an independent, scientific, peer-reviewed prospective study of working horses and mules in Charleston’s stressful urban environment to provide a framework for humane working conditions” , says the press release.
“Charleston has the harshest working conditions for horses in this type of tourist attraction in the entire country,” Elmore said. “The question is not what the forces can do physically, but what they must do humanely. That was our only point. Not only did the court find that the plaintiff’s claims were baseless, but also that the plaintiff is consistently breaking the law as do others in this tourism business. And the city recognizes it, but does not enforce it.
Elmore called for “strong, honest reform and oversight,” but said that in the meantime, the Charleston Animal Society will continue to be a champion of animal voices in the community.
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