Energy Co. Tells Texas Justices Anti-SLAPP Law Unclear by Paul DeBenedetto, December 4, 2014, Law360.com
An ambiguous Texas anti-SLAPP statute led an appeals court to wrongly dismiss most of a Range Resources Corp. defamation suit against two homeowners who alleged fracking contaminated their water, the company told the Texas high court on Thursday.
In oral arguments to the state Supreme Court, Range attorney John H. Cayce of Kelly Hart & Hallman LLP said the company had legitimate claims against Steven and Shyla Lipsky, a Parker County couple who recorded a viral video allegedly setting water from a hose on fire….
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Highest Court to Weigh in on a Dispute Over Water by Jim Malewitz, September 4, 2014, New York Times
Steve Lipsky’s tainted water well has already stirred a national debate about the impacts of oil and gas production. Now it stars in a free-speech dispute that has landed in the state’s highest court — the biggest test of a law meant to curb attempts to stifle public protest.
So much methane has migrated into the well on Mr. Lipsky’s Parker County estate that he can ignite the stream that flows from it. Mr. Lipsky blames the phenomenon on nearby gas drilling in the Barnett Shale. In the past three years, he has shared those suspicions in YouTube videos, the film “Gasland Part II” and news reports.
A local drilling company, Range Resources, has maintained that it was not to blame for the contamination. In 2011, the company filed a lawsuit against Mr. Lipsky; his wife, Shyla Lipsky; and Alisa Rich, a toxicologist the couple hired to test their well. The $3 million suit accuses the three of conspiring to “defame and disparage” Range Resources and force federal regulators to intervene. Range representatives did not respond to requests for comment.
Lawyers for the Lipskys and Ms. Rich have asked courts to dismiss the suit, pointing to a 2011 tort reform law intended to protect free speech. The law opens the door for the early dismissal of meritless legal claims filed to intimidate critics — so-called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or Slapps, that seek to quiet opponents by drowning them in legal fees.
“It’s them trying to intimidate other people, meaning, ‘How dare you ever accuse us of something like this?’ ” Mr. Lipsky, who pays $1,000 a month to truck in water from nearby Weatherford, said of Range Resources.
After a lower court allowed Range’s lawsuit to proceed, the Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth ordered that court to set aside all charges except the defamation and disparagement allegations against Steve Lipsky. The court said Range provided no clear evidence that the others had conspired with him. Now, the Texas Supreme Court will weigh in, with oral arguments scheduled for Dec. 4. First Amendment lawyers, who say lower courts have inconsistently applied the law, will watch closely. “It’ll be nice if the Texas Supreme Court could provide us with a nice, clear interpretation of that evidentiary standard,” said Alicia Calzada, an associate at the law firm Haynes and Boone.
Texas Supreme Court to Hear Oral Arguments in Range Resources vs Lipskys and their Methane Contaminated Drinking Water: “That’s exactly what the First Amendment is for — it’s to allow people to express those ideas …This is probably the poster child for what Slapp is” ]