HOUSTON – A judge dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed against a woman who complained to an animal welfare group about the treatment of rare white tigers caged at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium, which is owned by Landry’s Inc. restaurants.
Harris County District Judge Steven Kirkland ordered Landry’s to pay $450,000 in penalties and an additional $174,000 in legal fees to deter the company from filing such lawsuits in the future.
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.
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 Texas’ anti-SLAPP law which prevents strategic lawsuits against public participation. Such laws enable judges to dismiss meritless lawsuits filed against citizens who speak out about matters of public concern.
“This ruling is a crushing referendum on the ability of billion-dollar corporations to control public discourse through baseless lawsuits,” said Mr. Mahendru. “The tigers and their conditions in the Downtown Aquarium were deeply disturbing to Cheryl Conley. For exercising her constitutional rights to inform the animal welfare group about her concerns, Landry’s sued her. The judge would have none of that and slapped Landry’s by dismissing the lawsuit and awarding massive sanctions.”
The case was covered in the Houston Press story “Landry’s Must Pay Animal Welfare Group Over White Tiger Dispute”, the Houston Chronicle story “Judge tosses defamation lawsuit over Landry’s tigers“, the Law360 story “Restaurant Sanctioned In Defamation Suit Over Tiger Welfare” subscription required), and the Forbes magazine story “ExxonMobil Wins An Anti-SLAPP Motion In Texas, While Landry’s Loses.”
The lawsuit is Landry’s, Inc. and the Downtown Aquarium, Inc. v. Animal Legal Defense Fund et al. No. 2016-79698 in Harris County’s 334th District Court.
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.