Defense of five Middlesex Township (Butler Co.) residents and two nonprofit environmental organizations against a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation) filed by a developer and several landowners alleging that the residents and nonprofits illegally interfered with their business interests by opposing a local pro-drilling/fracking zoning ordinance
Court/Assoc.: Court of Common Pleas, Butler County
Attorneys/Firms: Witold Walczak (ACLU-PA); Mike Healey (Healey & Hornack)
On July 8, 2015, the ACLU of Pennsylvania sent a letter to a Butler County developer and its co-plaintiffs demanding that they drop their lawsuit against five Middlesex Township residents and two nonprofit organizations, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Clean Air Council, who oppose a local pro-drilling/fracking zoning ordinance. The letter states that the ACLU will seek sanctions against the developer, Dewey Homes & Investment Properties, and its co-plaintiffs, for filing a frivolous lawsuit intended to “harass and inflict expense” on the defendants if they do not drop the complaint. The ACLU considers the lawsuit a SLAPP suit (strategic lawsuit against public participation), which is a dangerous legal tactic designed to stifle dissent and punish core First-Amendment-protected activities, such as speaking at public meetings and filing appropriate legal challenges to the proposed commercial activity.
In September 2015, the Butler Court of Common Pleas dismissed the lawsuit based on our preliminary objections. The plaintiffs refiled the case. On May 31, 2016, the court dismissed the plaintiffs' lawsuit with prejudice. They have 30 days to appeal the order.