On December 14, lawyers from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and Bostwick & Jassy LLP defending the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in a lawsuit brought by California-based agricultural labor company Global Horizons, Inc. and its president, Mordechai Orian won what is called an anti-SLAPP motion when the court found that Orian had brought the suit in an effort to chill the human rights group’s public statements on an issue of public interest. The court ruled that FIDH showed that this lawsuit had been a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit targeting constitutionally-protected free speech.
In October, FIDH was sued for libel and tortious interference with business relations regarding a report it issued in 2003 – entitled “Migrant Workers in Israel: A Contemporary Form of Slavery” - stating that Orian and the company he directed had failed to pay Chinese migrant workers and, instead, had them beaten and deported. Orian is currently facing charges in Hawaii for forced labor of approximately 400 Thai nationals. Orian and Global Horizons were seeking at least $110 million in damages, claiming that material in FIDH’s report was defamatory and was “republished” last year.
Despite Orian recently voluntarily dismissing the suit without prejudice after FIDH filed its anti-SLAPP motion, the court found that FIDH would have prevailed on the motion, and retained jurisdiction to determine attorneys fees and costs. Prevailing defendants shall be awarded reasonable fees and costs under the anti-SLAPP statute in California.
“We are glad the court recognized this lawsuit for what it was - an outrageous attempt to silence one of the most respected and distinguished human rights organizations in the world,” said Maria LaHood, a Senior Staff Attorney with the Center for Constitutional Rights. “That the court granted our motion even after the suit was withdrawn sends a strong message to Mr. Orian and others who would try to chill speech through frivolous litigation while placing profits above human rights.”
“Through this decision, the US District Court of Los Angeles has protected FIDH’s right to participate in the public debate and therefore to fulfill our role as a human rights organization,” said Souhayr Belhassen, FIDH’s president.
CCR co-counsel Gary Bostwick of Bostwick & Jassy LLP said, “The Court and California law prevented grave injury to Freedom of Expression and to the defendants. The action prevented an unjustifiable chill descending upon the FIDH’s courageous advocacy on this issue.”
SLAPPs are civil complaints or counterclaims in which the alleged injury was the result of petitioning or free speech activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and by the California Constitution. While many cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence others. California has an anti-SLAPP statute to deter such lawsuits.
The case was Orian et al. v. FIDH et al., Case No. 11-cv-06904-PSG (FFMx) in the U.S. District Court in the Central District of California. For more information and the original filings, visit http://ccrjustice.org/ourcases/current-cases/orian.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is co-counsel on the case with Los Angeles attorneys Gary Bostwick, Jean-Paul Jassy, and Kevin Vick, of Bostwick & Jassy LLP. For more information about Bostwick & Jassy LLP, visit http://www.bostwickjassy.com/