ACLU Supports Taxi Company President
Against SLAPP Suit Which Violates First Amendment
February 18, 2004
Honolulu - The ACLU of Hawai'i today filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the Hawai'i Supreme Court to support an individual for speaking out against alleged abuses in the Honolulu International Airport taxi concession. The ACLU argues that such a lawsuit commonly referred to as a SLAPP suit violates the First Amendment by punishing individuals petitioning the government to remedy illegal activities. This is the first time a SLAPP suit is being challenged in Hawai'i courts.
The president of Charleyıs Taxi, Dale Evans, had written State officials asking them to investigate reports of misconduct and possible illegal activities engaged in by TheCab, the company that holds a revocable permit for the concession at the airport.
TheCab responded by suing Charleyıs Taxi for defamation for sending a letter to State officials. Charleyıs Taxi moved to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that it violated federal and state constitutional rights to petition the government for redress of grievances. The Circuit Court rejected their claims stating the proper forum to decide the issue was the Supreme Court. The ACLU argues that this delay is unjustified and only furthers the harm of SLAPP suits.
"SLAPP suits endanger the First Amendment because their goal is to target people exercising their constitutional right to have the government investigate and remedy possible illegal or harmful activities. The object of SLAPP suits is to wear people down with frivolous and protracted litigation. Such targets understandably become more reluctant to speak out in the future. The case law is clear that the courts have a duty to swiftly to dismiss these suits," said interim legal director Susan Dorsey.
The ACLU brief argues that SLAPP lawsuits that seek to attach legal liability upon the legitimate exercise of First Amendment rights unduly chill and deter protected expression by forcing the targets individuals and organizations who seek to petition the government for redress of grievances regarding a matter of public importance to endure the expense and burden of defending themselves in a protracted court proceeding. Therefore the ACLU considers it imperative that Hawai'i courts quickly identify and dismiss such lawsuits.
Dorsey said, "these kinds of lawsuits must be stopped immediately because they diminish every personıs fundamental right to bring their grievances to the government on important public issues. Citizen participation and civic activism are vital elements of a functioning democracy. SLAPP suits cripple that very function."