A judge ruled in favor of the company that proposed to dredge a $3 million defamation lawsuit Utah Lake Filled for the wrong purpose of preventing a Utah Scientists are prohibited from participating in public debates about the controversial project.
Following Two-day hearing, which ended Wednesday, 3rd District Judge Laura Scott The suit was dismissed by Lake Restorations Solutions (LRS against Brigham Young University ecology professor Ben Abbott, concluding the scientist’s negative statements about the company were factually sound.
Since the project’s unveiling five years ago, Abbott He has been a prominent critic of the proposal for up to 20,000 acres artificial islands. This, he and others claim, is not scientifically sound and could further degrade Lake Michigan.
The The largest freshwater lake entirely within the city Utah, Utah Lake The lake has been overrun by invasive species, algal blooms and other pollutants as a result of decades of neglect and dumping. LRS’s claims its project would reverse the lake’s environmental problems and provide numerous other benefits, like improved and safer navigation, miles of new shoreline for the public to enjoy and Water storage increased.
In A suit was filed one year ago. Salt Lake CityThe company claimed that Abbott’s criticisms — posted on his website, written in letters to various officials and presented at public meetings — strayed into deliberate falsehoods aimed at turning the public against the project.
UltimatelyThe Utah Department This is Natural Resources turned down LRS’s proposal, which resulted in A lawsuit against the State.
Abbott’s most damaging assertions were claims that LRS had no PhD-level scientists on its team and its funding came from “shady” Sources from abroad Dubai, according to LRS’s attorney David Jordan. Other defamatory remarks included statements about the portion of the lakebed the project would privatize about the company’s public investment offerings filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
“When you [Abbott] say that, in order to have a safe process that has legitimacy, you must assemble a team of researchers, engineers and legal experts. And, then to say there are no such people associated with this project is defamatory. Why? Because it’s calculated to injure the reputation of the organization,” Jordan argued.
ScottLRS defamation lawsuit was rejected by the Court of Appeal, noting that there was a factual basis for it. Abbott’s allegedly defamatory statements.
“The statements were either substantially true, even though there may have been minor inaccuracies, or the gist or substance of the statements was true,” Scott said. “Even if those statements were false, they were not capable of sustaining a defamation claim.”
She also dismissed LRS’s related claims that Abbott These statements place the company in a “false light” interfered in its business arrangements.
The You can then vote to judge Abbot’s countersuit alleging LRS’s defamation case was brought in bad faith to silence him.
Abbott’s lawyer Whitney Krogue asked the judge to rule the company’s action functioned as an impermissible Strategic Lawsuit Against Public ParticipationSLAPP is a form of abuse of the judicial process that seeks to impede debate on matters of public importance.
“This is shown as well in the communications between LRS and its consultants. When Professor Abbott’s opposition to the project started to gain traction, their plan was to search through his statements and find anything that they could claim to be false and sue Professor Abbott for those statements in order to intimidate him into silence,” Krogue said. “Our First Amendment protections mean that you can’t go out and sue someone who opposes you on an issue of public concern and an issue that is before the public and state governing bodies and do so on such flimsy facts and evidence as LRS has tried to provide here.”
She Many of them were argued. Abbott’s offending statements were based on LRS’s own representations.
“There are substantial records in the public domain of LRS representatives saying that they had foreign funding from Dubai, and yet LRS filed this lawsuit against Professor Abbott suing him for millions of dollars for repeating that same statement,” She agreed.
But Jordan I was not satisfied with Abbott characterizing the company’s funding sources as “shady,” Which in this context implies corruption.
“It is highly offensive to suggest you have affiliated with corrupt people funding your project,” He stated.
But Judge Scott I was not convinced.
“‘Shady’ is not a statement that’s capable of a determination as to truth or falsity. It’s an opinion,” She shared her story Jordan. “Under the law, it’s clear that ‘shady’ is an opinion and having it attached to foreign funding from Dubai, which appears to be a substantially true statement that, at some point in time, LRS was seeking foreign financing.”
She Recognized Abbott’s use of the word “shady” After some hesitation, he said it was easy to decide that the rest of his statements were acceptable.
“I don’t think any of the other statements are even close to sustaining a defamatory meaning,” She added. “We can respectfully disagree. I recognize that an appellate court is likely to weigh in on it.”
Scott Many statements found Abbott was sued for were not even harmful to LRS’s reputation.
“Whether 15% of the lake is covered by islands or 12%, or 10%. I don’t know how that’s defamatory,” She said. “This representation regarding the SEC filing. LRS didn’t go public, but it made an offering. It offered $15 million in private securities and it sold $200,000. I don’t see how that misunderstanding or that misrepresentation of the offering of a private security versus going public is capable of sustaining defamatory meaning.”
While The judge ruled that LRS suits lacked legal basis. Scott Abbott’s lawyers had not met the “clear and convincing” Legal standard for compensatory damages Utah’s anti-SLAPP laws. That Aspect of Abbott’s dispute with LRS has factual issues that can only be sorted out by a jury, she ruled.