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Friday, January 17, 2020

Denied: Houston Chronicle, KHOU-TV appeal seeking to vacate ruling on anti-SLAPP motions

By David Yates | Jun 4, 2019

General court 09

HOUSTON – A Texas appellate court recently denied an appeal brought by Hearst Newspapers (Houston Chronicle) and KHOU-TV, which sought to vacate a ruling on their anti-SLAPP motions.

The appeal stems from a lawsuit brought by Status Lounge Incorporate, which previously held a TABC license for a Houston area bar called Status Lounge & Cigar Bar.

According to court records, Status Lounge alleged that the media outlets, along with William Langlois (a producer at KHOU-TV), defamed the bar by reporting on a police press conference about a matter of public concern in the community.

Prior to the defendants’ current appeal, the 14th Court of Appeals previously reversed a trial court’s order denying their respective Anti-SLAPP motions as untimely filed and remanded the case with a mandate to rule on the motions.

The Texas Citizens Participation Act, also known as the anti-SLAPP statute, was enacted to safeguard free speech against retaliatory lawsuits.

However, the trial court refused to rule on the merits of the media defendants’ anti-SLAPP motions, even though they repeatedly requested a ruling, court records show.

Instead, a district judge entered an order determining that the motions had been denied by operation of law for the trial court’s failure to rule in a timely manner.

The media defendants filed a petition for writ of mandamus on May 13, arguing that the case concerns important protections for speech concerning matters of public concern, including reporting on the occurrence of, and investigation into, crime and matters of health and safety in the community.

In their appeal, the media defendants questioned whether the trial court abused its discretion by failing to abide by the mandate previously issued by the 14th Court of Appeals.

On May 30, the 14th Court of Appeals denied the petition, opining that the media defendants must both show that the trial court abused its discretion and that they have no adequate remedy at law.

“Relators have not shown that they are entitled to mandamus relief,” the opinion states. “We therefore deny relators’ petition for writ of mandamus.”

The broadcast defendants are represented by Laura Prather and Catherine Lewis Robb, attorneys for the Austin law firm Haynes and Boone.

Hearst is represented by attorney Jonathan Donnellan.

Appeals case No. 14-19-00398-CV

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State of Texas 14th Court of Appeals