Palm Beach Environmental Organizers SLAPP Back

Campbell Law assisted environmental attorney Marcy LaHart in her successful defense of a grassroots environmental organization in the Palm Beach County case of Paul Thibadeau v. Jeffrey Cameron, et al. (case number 502005 CA 007681). A Palm Beach Post blog article entitled A blow against SLAPP suits by Sally Swartz provided this case overview:

Developers and lawyers who file lawsuits against residents who oppose their projects aren’t often brought to justice themselves. But a Palm Beach County Circuit Court judge recently struck a blow against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP suits). Developers use such suits, illegal in many states, to silence opponents, who often are intimidated by the expense and stress of defending themselves. 

In late June, Judge David Crow ordered Palm Beach real estate lawyer Paul Thibadeau to pay the legal fees three neighbors incurred after Mr. Thibadeau sued them for publicly opposing his plan to build a mega-dock near the Jupiter Inlet.

The neighbors, according to their Gainesville lawyer Marcy LaHart, had circulated petitions and sent letters opposing the 270-foot dock to the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Town of Jupiter ultimately denied Mr. Thibadeau permission to build the dock, citing concerns about its location and length.

Ms. LaHart calls the case “a textbook SLAPP suit.” Mr. Thibadeau voluntarily dismissed his suit two weeks before trial, which was to begin last November. Judge Crow’s June 21 ruling finds the Thibadeau lawsuit frivolous and that Thibadeau’s claims against Jeffrey and Andrea Cameron and Doug Bouge were “retaliatory for the defendants’ exercise of their constitutional rights.”

The neighbors’ “freedom to petition their government and speak their minds regarding matters of public concern are among the most basic fundamental constitutional rights guaranteed to the citizens of this state,” the judge said in his ruling. His order requires a future hearing to determine the amount of legal fees Mr. Thibadeau must pay his neighbors.

Making SLAPP suit perpetrators pay legal fees is the only remedy the system offers for now. Unfortunately, some deep-pocket developers consider such awards as just the cost of doing business. Still, the Palm Beach [case is a reminder] that justice exists in the world.

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