Landry's defamation suit shot down on appeal, case stems from white tiger exhibit at Downtown Aquarium

By David Yates | Oct 23, 2018

HOUSTON – For the past two years, Landry has waged a legal battle fighting claims of animal mistreatment and criminal conduct pertaining to its white Bengal tiger exhibit at the Downtown Aquarium restaurant.

The lawsuit was in response to an alleged “campaign of defamation” initiated by Animal Legal Defense Fund, which made statements about how Landry’s kept four tigers in “deplorable conditions” and subjected the beasts to “serious” physical mental and physical harm.

Landry’s lawsuit maintained that the ALDF previously visited the Aquarium to view the exhibit and were made aware that the tigers were properly cared for in accordance to all applicable laws.

The ALDF sought to force Landry’s into giving up the tigers by spreading misinformation through traditional and social media, according to the lawsuit.

Cheryl Conley, a defendant in the suit, had also published a notice of intent to sue Landry’s under the Endangered Species Act for the alleged inadequate care and housing of the tigers.

At the time, Carney Nasser, an attorney for ALDF, was Conley’s reputed attorney.

Court records show a trial court dismissed the case under the Texas Citizens Participation Act and levied $450,000 in sanctions, prompting the appeal.

On Oct. 18, the 14th Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal, finding that Landry’s and Houston Aquarium failed to meet their initial burden under the TCPA to establish by clear and specific evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of their claims of abuse of process, trespass, and conspiracy to commit theft.

However, justices found the award of $450,000 in sanctions excessive, bringing the total award down to less than $175,000.

“Because there are no material fact questions in this case, Landry’s was not entitled to a jury trial or an evidentiary hearing, and thus, the TCPA is not unconstitutional on those grounds as applied to Landry’s,” the opinion states.

“The TCPA also is not rendered unconstitutional by its failure to specify how sanctions are to be measured, and it does not violate the open-courts provision as alleged.”

A concurring dissenting opinion, authored by Justice Kevin Jewell, agreed with the majority that the sanction amount was excessive but disagreed that the record supports any sanction above a nominal amount. 

Landry’s is represented by attorneys Layne Kruse, Philip Tarpley, and Dov Preminger of the law firm Norton Rose Fulbright US LLP in Houston.

The suit was filed in the Harris County 334th District Court, case No. 2016-79698.

Appeals case No. 14-17-00207

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