AZA Wins Dismissal, Fines for Frivolous Suit over Facebook Post July 31, 2017
HOUSTON – Trial lawyer Adam Milasincic has won a dismissal and fines against a Texas couple who filed a frivolous lawsuit to squelch free speech on Facebook.
The plaintiffs operate Rowdy Girl Sanctuary, which they describe as an animal shelter in Angleton, Texas. They were ordered to pay nearly $60,000 in fines and legal bills for filing a meritless lawsuit against a Dallas doctor who criticized their aggressive fundraising in one Facebook post. The owners had sought $1 million for defamation, but their case was dismissed by a Houston judge on July 26.
“This case should be a warning to thin-skinned people who think that suing their critics is a good way to shut down free speech,” said Mr. Milasincic of AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing. “All my client did was raise legitimate questions in a Facebook post. We need to be on guard now more than ever for bullies using our court system as a hammer to whack First Amendment rights.”
The case was covered by the Houston Press in “Judge Sanctions “Vegan” Animal Sanctuary for Frivolous Lawsuit,” in Texas Lawbook in “Judge Slams Rowdy Girl Farm Owners for Frivolous Lawsuit” (subscription required) and on KPRC-TV Channel 2 in “Angleton animal sanctuary facing fines after filing lawsuit.”
Mr. Milasincic was named Litigator of the Week by Texas Lawyer for this case. See “Litigator of the Week: The King of Texas’ Animal Anti-SLAPP Kingdom” (subscription required). This is the third time Mr. Milasincic has prevailed for clients by using a Texas law that forbids “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” or SLAPP. He has also written articles about the SLAPP law.
This latest case involved a lawsuit filed by Renee King-Sonnen, a country singer who bills herself as the “Queen of Honky Tonk,” and her husband, Tommy Sonnen. Until 2014, Tommy Sonnen raised cattle for slaughter. After his wife became a vegan, the couple converted the ranch into a no-kill farm they dubbed a sanctuary.
But the farm became controversial when Ms. King-Sonnen raised $30,000 from online donors to buy her husband’s cattle to establish the nonprofit. The fundraising practices came under fire, especially after 2015 tax returns revealed that only 9 percent of the nearly $100,000 raised that year was spent on livestock supplies and veterinary care. In addition, some animals died under what concerned observers believed were suspicious circumstances.
Mr. Milasincic’s client, Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna, a child psychiatrist in Dallas and animal rights advocate who once donated to the farm, merely posted her concerns on a Facebook page called The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed. That post led to her being sued. The case is Rowdy Girl Sanctuary Inc., Renee King-Sonnen and Tommy Sonnen v. Lisa Neasbitt et al., No. 2017-10080 in Harris County’s 295th District Court.
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos & Mensing, is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property, and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized in Chambers USA 2017 among the best in Texas commercial law; U.S. News & World Report and The Best Lawyers in America as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for 2017; and Law360 as one of only 13 Texas Powerhouse law firms. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 1000.