Thursday, June 2, 2005
C.A Allows Animal Research Firm, Employee to Sue Protesters
Fourth District Justices Rule Suit Is No SLAPP, but Order Narrowing of Preliminary Injunction
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A lawsuit by an animal research firm and an employee whose property was vandalized against animal rights activists is sufficiently meritorious to survive a motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP law, the Fourth District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
The ruling by Div. One affirmed, in part, a decision by San Diego Superior Court Judge J. Richard Haden, who held that Huntingdon Life Sciences, Inc. is likely to prevail on its harassment claim against Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc. and its president, Kevin Kjonaas.
But the court, in an opinion by Presiding Justice Judith McConnell, said Haden went too far in issuing a preliminary injunction that bars Kjonaas and his group from coming within 100 feet of any employee of Huntingdon Life Sciences or any friend, family member, or business associate of an employee, or of any such person’s real property.
Huntingdon Life Sciences is a British-based firm that performs pharmaceutical and chemical research, including tests on mice, rats, dogs, monkeys and rabbits. Its U.S. headquarters is in New Jersey, where Kjonaas and six other members of the anti-Huntingdon group went on trial yesterday on domestic terrorism charges.
The indictment alleges the group incited others to commit crimes of vandalism and harassment against employees of Huntingdon and companies that did business with Huntingdon by putting employees’ names, addresses and other personal information on a Web site. Later, the group would post reports of the incidents on the site.
Stop Huntingdon’s avowed purpose is to force the company’s closure through actions including civil disobedience. The organization says it abhors violence, but it has been named—along with other animal rights and environmental groups—as a major domestic terrorism threat by an FBI official.
John Lewis, FBI deputy assistant director for counterterrorism, told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee earlier this month that Stop Huntingdon, the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front are “way out in front” of groups like right-wing extremists, the Ku Klux Klan and anti-abortion groups in terms of the amount of damage and the number of crimes they commit, The Associated Press reported.
The San Diego suit focuses on picketing and vandalism at the home of Claire Macdonald, a company resident. Stop Huntingdon targeted Macdonald on the Web site, and she and the company filed suit two years after paint was dumped on her driveway and her husband’s car, three of the car’s tires were punctured, and “HLS Scum” was painted on the garage in blue spray paint.
Named as defendants in the suit were Stop Huntingdon, Kjonaas, and David Agranoff. Agranoff has admitted picketing Macdonald’s residence but denied participating in vandalism or being associated with violent protesters.
The defendants moved to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute, saying it implicated their free speech rights, but Haden denied the motion and granted the preliminary injunction sought by the plaintiffs.
McConnell, writing for the Court of Appeal, agreed with the defendants that free speech was involved, and that the protests involved a public issue. “Animal testing is an area of widespread public concern and controversy, and the viewpoint of animal rights activists contributes to the public debate,” the presiding justice wrote.
But under the anti-SLAPP law, the jurist noted, the existence of a First Amendment issue does not preclude the granting of the motion, but simply shifts to the plaintiff the burden of establishing a prima facie case.
HLS and Macdonald, she said, had shown they were likely to prevail on a claim of harassment, while Macdonald also showed that she would probably win on her intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, and unfair competition claims.
McConnell cited a deposition Kjonaas gave in another suit, in which he admitted his group “targets” specific HLS employees on its Web site and elsewhere, and that he had worked as a volunteer for the group’s British counterpart and was aware that it had physically attacked HLS employees, events the U.S. group had publicized on the Web site.
The Web site, McConnell, noted, had also carried what appeared to be a firsthand account of vandalism at the home of a New York representative of the company. While the action was attributed to the ALF, the presiding justice pointed out, it came after the man was targeted by Stop Huntingdon.
The jurist also cited a newsletter distributed by the organization, in which it said that “targets can expect regular phone and email blockades, black faxes, demonstrations and disruptions inside and outside their offices, civil disobedience, home demonstrations of executives, and publicity stunts.”
McConnell distinguished NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Company (1982) 458 U.S. 886, which held that the First Amendment protected activities in support of a boycott of white-owned businesses, even when accompanied by heated rhetoric suggesting that violence might be employed against blacks who defied the boycott.
That case did not, McConnell said, arise “in the context of a threat against a specific named individual.”
The jurist went on to say that Macdonald was likely to prevail against Agronoff on her claim that he violated San Diego’s residential picketing ordinance, based on his admission that he had picketed her home. The U.S. Supreme Court, she explained, has held that while broad bans on picketing in residential neighborhoods violate the First Amendment, a law which prohibits the targeting of specific residences is constitutional.
On remand, the presiding justice wrote, the trial judge will have to narrow the injunction so that it is no broader “than necessary to assure [Stop Huntingdon] and Kjonaas will not again make a credible threat of violence against Macdonald or any other HLS employee, or family members residing with them.”
The case is Huntingdon Life Sciences, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc., 05 S.O.S. 2613.
Copyright 2005, Metropolitan News Company