Friday, October 13, 2006
Injunction Against Animal Rights Group in Harassment Case Upheld
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
A lawsuit against an animal rights group by a biopharmaceutical company whose employees were harassed in connection with the group’s activities clearly survives a motion to strike under the anti-SLAPP statute, the First District Court of Appeal ruled yesterday.
Div. Two affirmed an order by Alameda Superior Court Judge Steven Brick, who denied Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc.’s motion to strike claims that Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Inc. brought on behalf of its employees.
The justices also upheld a preliminary injunction that Brick issued against Stop Huntingdon while its appeal on the motion to strike was pending.
Novartis, based in Emeryville and formerly known as Chiron Corporation, sued Stop Huntingdon in February 2004 on behalf of several employees whom Stop Huntingdon allegedly targeted as part of its campaign against Huntingdon Life Sciences—a British-based research firm whose biochemical testing includes experiments on mice, rats, rabbits monkeys, dogs and cats.
Stop Huntingdon is the U.S. arm of a British group that catalyzes efforts aimed at shutting down Huntingdon. It has been the subject of both criminal and civil actions and has been described by the FBI as a domestic terrorist organization.
It had targeted Novartis in 2003 for using the services of Huntingdon as part of its work of developing vaccines and blood testing products for diseases like cancer and AIDS.
It posted on its Web site the names, home phone numbers, home addresses, and bank account information of Chiron employees, as well as the names of the employees’ spouses and children.
Additionally, Stop Huntingdon’s Web site encouraged activists to make harassing “home visits”—which Haerle described as “a euphemism for a terrifying and often destructive night time invasion[s]”—to the employees’ residences. The site contained instructions about how to conduct such visits, a calendar directing activists to gather on a specific date to conduct them.
Protesters paid several late-night “visits” to the homes of three high-level Chiron employees in May 2003, which included shouting anti-Chiron slogans through bullhorns, setting off shrieking alarms in their yards, and smearing feces on their doorsteps. Activists also harassed the targeted employees by calling them and posting their home phone numbers on the Internet in connection with false advertisements, for example a fictitious estate sale.
Stop Huntingdon posted statements on its Web site after at least two of the incidents, threatening future activity if Chiron did not stop doing business with Huntingdon.
After protesters several months later bombed Chiron’s facilities, Stop Huntingdon’s president made a public statement that his group shared the bombers’ passion and Chiron and its staff should be “very worried.” Stop Huntingdon’s site also posted links to the group that took responsibility for the bombing.
The justices held that the acts committed during the home visits were clearly unlawful, and there was ample evidence that Stop Huntingdon conspired with the demonstrators to commit those acts, even though the group’s Web site maintained that it “does not encourage or incite illegal activity.”
Justice Paul Haerle, writing for the court, said:
“It is simply not the case, as SHAC USA argues, that its statements in furtherance of this conspiracy are protected under the anti-SLAPP statute.”
Probability of Prevailing
Citing Huntingdon Life Sciences, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc. (2005) 129 Cal. App. 4th 1228—which involved similar facts—Haerle explained that Stop Huntingdon’s activities constituted ‘true threats’ and were therefore not protected by the First Amendment.
Moreover, he wrote, there was “more than sufficient evidence” in the record to support Brick’s conclusion that Novartis showed a probability of prevailing on its harassment, intentional infliction of emotional distress, invasion of privacy, intrusion, and trespass claims.
The court also rejected Stop Huntingdon’s jurisdictional challenge to the preliminary injunction issued by Brick in September 2004, after vociferous demonstrators vandalized the home of Chiron’s general counsel.
Justices James R. Lambden and James A. Richman joined in the opinion.
The case is Novartis Vaccines and Diagnostics, Inc. v. Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty USA, Inc., 06 S.O.S. 5486.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company