The venn diagram of people that know who the Tiger King is and the Landry’s, Inc. and Houston Aquarium, Inc v. Animal Legal Defense Fund et al, lawsuit is a perfect circle. In the underlying case the ALDF threatened suit against Landry’s (which owns Houston Aquarium – which houses four white Bengal tigers) for treatment/conditions of the tigers. The ALDF then escalated the situation through notification of the threat to the public and the media through different broadcast mechanisms, including its website, Facebook, and sending the notice letter to media outlets – which then wrote less than flattering stories about Landy’s.
You would need to be stuck in a faux tiger preserve in southern Oklahoma to not know that a defamation lawsuit and a Texas Anti-Slapp motion were headed toward a cat fight. The Texas Anti-Slapp was granted with over $100,000 in attorneys’ fees awarded and sanctions totaling $450,000. The Houston COA upheld the dismissal with some reductions on fees and sanctions suggested via remittitur.
The Texas Supreme Court pulled out its chair and whip and jumped square into the middle of this feline fracas. First up, the TSC rejected the judicial immunity privilege because blasting out information about a lawsuit to the public and media for publicity purposes loses its judicial immunity privilege when such information is broadcast outside the judicial context. In other words, talking to the media has no relationship to the judicial purpose of sending a notice letter threatening litigation. Using effectively the same logic, the TSC rejected the attorney immunity defense because you don’t need to be an attorney (much less a good one) to send out press releases about lawsuits to the media. Since hitting sending on your computer does not implicate legal skill or authority of a lawyer that defense hit the litter box as well.
But Landry’s did not fare quite so well in the rest of the opinion. Its tortious interference and business disparagement claims failed for lack of proof of damages. And Landry’s ultimate problem if it ever makes it to trial – how do you prove your economic harm when more than one person is broadcasting bad things about you – will still exit.
The only claim to squeak through(for now) is the defamation case because the underlying defamation per se claim presumes damages. So a dispute that started at the end of 2016 goes back to the Houston COA where it might still dismiss the defamation claim on other grounds (like the statements were not defamatory as a matter of law).And then Landry’s will appeal that decision and the propriety of the $450,000 sanction, which the TSC could not reach because of the defamation ruling. This case will be long in the tooth by the time it finally ends
** Photo attribution