Tom Williams | Haynes and Boone LLP
In one of the first tests of the new anti-SLAPP statute, a Texas newspaper was awarded attorney fees after the plaintiffs had already dismissed the lawsuit against the newspaper.
Hest Technologies, a computer firm, and Skyeward Bound Ranch, a non-profit organization, sued The Castroville News Bulletin for libel in Tarrant County state district court, complaining of a November 3, 2011, News Bulletin article about the execution of a search warrant at an Atascosa County charitable sweepstakes business. The plaintiffs alleged that the article falsely implied that they were involved in the operation of an illegal lottery. The plaintiffs also sued the operators of the sweepstakes business.
The News Bulletin filed a motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP statute, asking that the case be dismissed and that the plaintiffs be ordered to pay the newspaper’s attorney fees.
After the motion was filed, but before it could be heard, the plaintiffs dismissed their claim against the News Bulletin, and then argued that the dismissal rendered the newspaper’s request for attorney fees moot. The News Bulletin countered by arguing that voluntary dismissal of a lawsuit does not prevent a court from hearing a pending motion for fees, costs or a counterclaim.
On April 17, State District Judge Don Cosby of Fort Worth awarded the News Bulletin attorney fees in the amount of $7,500.