HOUSTON – The Texas 14th Court of Appeals affirmed a trial judge’s dismissal of a defamation lawsuit filed against a woman who complained about the treatment of rare white tigers caged at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium, which is owned by Landry’s Inc. restaurants.
The appellate court found that Harris County District Judge Steven Kirkland did not abuse his discretion when he dismissed the lawsuit.
Cheryl Conley, a Montgomery County woman who saw the tigers’ behind-closed-doors cages at the downtown facility, was represented by Houston lawyers Ashish Mahendru and Darren Braun of Mahendru P.C. Ms. Conley alerted the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which took steps to initiate a lawsuit to protect the animals. Landry’s preempted their lawsuit by filing defamation suits against Ms. Conley and the organization.
“The appellate court confirmed the trial judge’s message that billion-dollar corporations cannot use our Texas courts to quiet public discourse,” said Mr. Mahendru. He said the conditions in which the four tigers are held at the Downtown Aquarium are deeply disturbing to Ms. Conley, and it is an outrage for Landry’s to sue her for simply informing an animal welfare group about her concerns.
The successful motions for dismissal were filed by both Ms. Conley and the Animal Legal Defense Fund, which was represented by Adam Milasincic at Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C. The motions were filed under a Texas law barring Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPP. Such laws enable judges to dismiss meritless lawsuits filed against citizens who speak out about matters of public concern.
The appellate court agreed with the trial judge’s original order that Landry’s pay $174,000 in legal fees, but suggested the court lower the additional $450,000 in penalties against Landry’s.
The lawsuit is Landry’s, Inc. and Houston Aquarium, Inc. v. Animal Legal Defense Fund et al. No. 14-17-00207-cv.
Mahendru P.C. is a boutique commercial litigation firm whose attorneys are known for their tenacity, intelligence and experience. Founded in 2001, the firm has a simple philosophy: Your problem is our problem. We adopt it, understand it and solve it. Our objective is to resolve every case in the best, fastest and most cost-efficient manner possible. We never wait for our opponent’s next move, which means we spend a lot of time at the courthouse and are well-known there.