- April 6 - Environmental groups hailed a federal court's dismissal of
a major lawsuit filed by the coal industry that had sought to
silence debate on global warming and impose massive damages for
the groups' global warming publicity. The lawsuit attacked the
groups for running a newspaper advertisement in the NewYork
Times on December 13, 1999, entitled "Global Warming-How
Will It End?" The advertisement highlighted the causes,
potential impacts and possible solutions to global warming and
mentioned "coal" as a cause.
The environmental groups had denounced the lawsuit as a classic
SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation). SLAPPs
are frivolous suits by polluters and developers used to harass
citizen opponents. The lawsuit was filed last year by Western
Fuels Association, an arm of the power industry that purchases
hundreds of millions of dollars of coal annually. The suit named
as defendants the Turning Point Project, the International Center
for Technology Assessment, Friends of the Earth, Ozone Action,
Earth Island Institute and the Rainforest Action Network. The
lawsuit attempted to establish a new legal precedent by invoking
the federal Lanham Act, which only applies to commercial speech
among competitors, in a case involving only political speech.
The environmental groups learned today that the federal district
court in Wyoming issued an order dismissing Western Fuels Association's
lawsuit SLAPP. The opinion by Chief Judge William Downes holds
that the lawsuit was improperly brought in Wyoming and that Western
Fuels' had failed to show why the environmental groups, based
in Washington, D.C. and San Francisco, should be sued in Wyoming.
Western Fuels had contended that any statement in the media connecting
"coal" with global warming should be construed as an
attack on the Wyoming coal industry. The court rejected this
argument, holding that it "does not agree with Plaintiff's
characterization that the subject of this action is coal"
and instead held the case to be one about speech.
The court also rejected Western Fuels' argument that placement
of the New York Times advertisement on one of the environmental
group's web sites allowed the case to be filed anywhere in the
country. The court held that in this emerging area of the law
"an Internet advertisement alone" is not "sufficient
to subject the advertiser to jurisdiction in the plaintiff's
Attorney Matthew F. Pawa, of Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll,
P.L.L.C., Washington, D.C., who represents the environmental
groups, stated he was "gratified that the court dismissed
the lawsuit." Pawa further stated that "Western Fuels'
lawsuit is an obvious attempt to use a court to harass and intimidate
citizens concerned with global warming by subjecting them to
expensive litigation in an inconvenient forum."
Attorney Reed Zars of Laramie Wyoming, who also represents
the environmental groups, stated "The debate over whether
the earth is flat or round did not need to be squelched by the
courts. The same is true for global warming. Does it give us
some idea of where the coal industry believes the global warming
discussion is headed that Western Fuels filed this case to stop
"The environmental and human health threats of global
warming are real and serious," said Dr. Brent Blackwelder,
President of Friends of the Earth. "We are pleased that
the court would not entertain a suit brought by polluters who
want to limit the ability of citizen groups to warn the public
about these risks."
Andrew Kimbrell of the Turning Point Project stated, "At
a time when the Bush Administration is turning its back on global
warming, the court effectively has sent a strong message that
public debate on this critical issue should not be censored."
Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.C. represents,
consumers, investors, employees, and businesses and non-profit
groups in cases involving securities, antitrust, civil rights,
consumer fraud, product liability and environmental matters.
A copy of the court's opinion can be obtained at www.cmht.com.
Cohen, Milstein, Hausfeld & Toll, P.L.L.
1100 New York Ave., N.W., Suite 500 West
Washington, D.C. 20005
Reed Zars, Esq.
2020 Grand Avenue, Suite 522
Laramie, WY 82070