Oakland, California, USA (News release) -- A federal court in California dismissed a seven-year lawsuit brought by Resolute Forest Products against a number of Greenpeace staff members and entities, including Greenpeace International and Greenpeace USA. The Canadian logging company sued the Greenpeace defendants for CA $100 million in an attempt to silence and bankrupt them, after criticism of its unsustainable forestry practices.
"Today's decision is a reminder of the need for governments around the world to enact robust anti-SLAPP laws. Resolute was able to waste the US federal court system's time for 7 years with its farcical claims. They do deserve congratulations for one thing: uniting civil society against such tactics and reminding other corporations that they can end up with egg on their face if they use their financial muscle to silence critics," said Daniel Simons, Greenpeace International Senior Legal Counsel Strategic Defence.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), like Resolute v Greenpeace, are legal tactics used by powerful corporations to shut down criticism from activists, academics, journalists, whistleblowers, and everyday people. They are increasingly used around the world to stifle environmental advocacy. A related, decade-long legal case Resolute has brought against Greenpeace Canada is ongoing and will hopefully be dismissed on similar grounds.
A US federal judge had previously knocked out all but two out of 296 statements Resolute claimed were defamatory. In today's ruling, he finds that Resolute has failed to show that the Greenpeace defendants acted with "actual malice" when making the two remaining statements, a requirement to be able to win the claim. The judge therefore granted the motion for summary judgment, closing the case before trial.
"The Court today sent a clear message--we will not be bullied into silence by corporations. Today's decision is a huge win for free speech, but more must be done to ensure that corporations can't abuse the legal system. Not everyone can afford to litigate a case for seven years. We must ensure that everyone has the right to fiercely criticize those willing to compromise our health and safety--without fear of a corporate sledgehammer in the form of a SLAPP suit," said Greenpeace USA Deputy General Counsel Deepa Padmanabha.
By one count, over the past 10 years, the fossil fuel industry has used SLAPPs to target more than 150 people and organisations, with 50 such cases being introduced in the last five years alone. The Resolute lawsuit -- which originally alleged that Greenpeace organisations violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal anti-Mafia law in the United States -- illustrates the extreme lengths to which large corporations will resort in order to stifle free speech. The threat of SLAPPs is not limited to the US, and there is an urgent need across the globe for protections against this type of corporate intimidation.
"Corporate SLAPP attacks are a threat to the very idea of citizen activism and free speech. Their goal, as with any corporation engaged in SLAPP attacks and legal bullying, is to harass and chill speech and activism that might threaten its activities or expose wrongdoing -- just like Resolute's attack against Greenpeace. This tactic is egregious and a threat to anyone who has ever or will ever stand up for what's right. Greenpeace is taking this fight on for all of us, and we stand together to denounce these corporate attacks," said Paul Paz y Miño, associate director of Amazon Watch and Protect the Protest Leadership Team Member.
To put a stop to corporate bullying, anti-SLAPP legislation is needed all around the world, such as the draft directive unveiled by the European Commission in April 2022 that would require EU Member States to put protections in place against SLAPP lawsuits, or the US federal anti-SLAPP law introduced by Congressional Representative Jamie Raskin in September 2022. In order to achieve a more just and sustainable future for people and planet, we must protect the right to speak truth to power.