Anti Riverkeeper Lawsuit Dismissed

unnamed 2A Calvert County judge recently dismissed a SLAPP Lawsuit against Patuxent Riverkeeper that had been filed by a local restaurant and Tiki-Bar operator on St. Leonard’s Creek ( a sub- tributary of the Patuxent River).  SLAPP suits are tactics used occasionally by vested interests to antagonize or discourage citizen opposition. The term stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”. Historically these have been baseless or bad faith lawsuits that cause citizen activists to shift their activism and/or good works into defense mode in order to defend allegations of defamation or other civil claims aimed at running up high legal bills and derailing opposition. Maryland as well as many other States actually have anti-SLAPP legislation on the books in an effort to protect citizens against these expensive and usually baseless attempts to silence their First amendment constitutional rights.  However, it is not unusual at all for citizens to have to hire lawyers and go through at least some of the motions to defend a case, in order to get the court system to invoke the Anti-SLAPP laws.  In this instance Patuxent RIVERKEEPER investigated pollution related complaints at Vera’s White Sands Beach Club in Calvert County.  After surveying the site and reviewing publicly available documents, Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman wrote a letter to the State environmental regulatory agency (MDE) detailing pollution issues he had observed at Vera’s location as well as other issues raised by community members.  However, once it was ascertained that State prosecutors where already aware of the issues and concerns at the Restaurant and had already been prosecuting the business for multiple violations, Patuxent RIVERKEEPER put its investigation on hold–but was subsequently sued by the business which alleged claims for defamation, false light an Injurious falsehood seeking financial damages. Over an 18-month period Vera’s legal counsel sought disclosure by Patuxent Riverkeeper of the names of the citizen complainants. The Riverkeeper declined to break faith with neighbors and residents who complained to the organization in an effort to protect their confidentiality and to protect them from further retaliatory lawsuits. The Calvert County Circuit Court scheduled a trial for January 2017 only to dismiss the case on the grounds that the Riverkeeper reports from the States had enjoyed “absolute immunity” from prosecution. You can reach the Court’s decision here: OPINION LETTER from Judge Wells rec’d 7-18-16  


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