Texas Supreme Court Orders and Opinion - 4/20/18

Posted by Rich PhillipsThis morning, the Supreme Court of Texas issued one opinion in an argued case. The Court did not grant any new petitions. The opinion is the first authored by Justice Blacklock since he joined the Court in January.No. 16-0786, Adams v. Starside Custom Builders, LLC — This case again presents issues about the application of the Texas Citizens Participation Act, Texas’s anti-SLAAP statute. It arises from a dispute between a homeowner and the developer of his neighborhood. The developer ultimately sued the homeowner, asserting a number of claims, including defamation based on statements that the homeowner made on a website, a blog post, and an email. The trial court denied the homeowner’s motion to dismiss under the TCPA. The court of appeals affirmed, reaching only the issue of whether the allegedly defamatory statements related to a matter of public concern. In a unanimous opinion by Justice Blacklock, the Supreme Court disagreed. The Court again emphasized the broad language used in the TCPA. Although the alleged statements did not mention the developer directly, the Supreme Court concluded that they did relate to the developer’s services in the marketplace (which is a category of communications that is defined to be a matter of public concern in the TCPA). The communications mentioned the developer’s predecessor and its current owner and CEO. Moreover, the Court noted that the developer itself had pleaded that these statements were, in effect, about the developer. The Court also noted that the alleged communications constituted statements about the “well-being of the community,” another subject that is expressly defined by the TCPA as a matter of public concern. In reaching that issue, the Court rejected the developer’s assertion that the homeowner had waived his argument about community well-being because it was not specifically included in his motion to dismiss. Instead, the Court emphasized that the court’s focus should be on whether the statements relate to a matter of public concern, not on the specific statutory sections cited in the motion to dismiss. The Court therefore reversed the court of appeals’ judgment and remanded the case to that court to consider whether the developer carried its burden to establish a prima facie case for each essential element of its defamation claim.