AZA Wins First Amendment Appellate Ruling for Client Defamed on Facebook
October 17, 2019
HOUSTON – The Texas First Court of Appeals ruled that a Harris County judge properly refused to dismiss a Facebook defamation case on First Amendment grounds.
The appeals court sent the case back to the trial court for further proceedings. The two defendants in a defamation suit filed by AZA’s client had appealed the Harris County judge’s ruling that the Texas Citizens Participation Act’s anti-SLAPP provision did not warrant dismissing the case. The defendants invoked their First Amendment right of association on a group Facebook page to try to trigger the provision.
AZA filed suit on behalf of a Vietnamese American business woman who was attacked through lies on social media as a Viet Cong agent who was bribing Houstonians to further an international communist conspiracy. The defamatory comments on a Vietnamese American group Facebook page included the false allegation that the woman’s daughter is the child of a Communist leader – even though the defendants admitted that they had no evidence to support that allegation.
The trial judge granted AZA’s request for a temporary injunction removing personal information from the Facebook page including the business woman’s home address and pictures of her child. The defamatory posting led to death threats and other violent threats against the woman. The judge also ordered those removed from the page as well.
“We are happy for our client that the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The appellate finding that the defendants’ statements are defamation per se is a recognition of how harmful this type of false statement can be,” said AZA partner Ryan Hackney, who is working on this case with firm partner Todd Mensing and associate Sammy Ford IV.
“We conclude that (the defendants’) statements qualify as defamation per se,” the appellate opinion said. “They accused her of criminal activity including funneling funds from a foreign communist country into the United States to bribe people, and they made statements that would adversely reflect on her fitness to lead a business in their community. Thus, (the plaintiff) did not have a burden to make a prima-facie showing of damages.”
The defendants in the case have also appealed the injunction that removed personal information and death threats, but the appellate court has not yet ruled on that request.
The First Court of Appeals heard oral arguments on September 10, 2019. Mr. Hackney argued for the plaintiff.
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 by Chambers USA 2019 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for eight years running; was named 2019 Litigation Department of the Year by Texas Lawyer; and was previously dubbed by Law360 a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 500 and 1000.