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E-M:/ SLAPP Suit Bill update



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Enviro-Mich message from anne.woiwode@sfsierra.sierraclub.org
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Friends:

A second hearing was held today in the Michigan House Committee on Consumer
Affairs on Rep. Liz Brater's bill that would attempt to end "strategic
lawsuits against public participation" or SLAPP suits.  The bill, HB 4709, has
been modified from the original in a few ways, and the bill was referred to
the House Judiciary Committee. MEC and Sierra Club testified in FAVOR of the
bill, but the Michigan Manufacturers Association testified against it.

Brater took testimony today, before the Consumer Affairs Committee voted to
refer it to Judiciary, in large part because a number of people questioned
whether this is actually a problem in Michigan.  Dave Dempsey cited two cases:
the suit against Bud and Janet Avery and the late John Manty relating to a
proposed mine on the Keweenaw Peninsula, and the recent suit in Alpena that
was brought to enviro-mich by Alex Sagady a few weeks ago.

I testified as a former Planning Commission member in Meridian Township in
Ingham County regarding the threat of a lawsuit that was made against a group
of citizens who wished to appeal a decision made by Twp. staff regarding a
project in their neighborhood.  The citizens received letters threatening to
sue them if they didn't withdraw their request for an appeal, and so the
citizens came before the Commission with the threatening letters and one by
one asked that the appeal be withdrawn.  Our Commission was furious at this
blatant attempt to block a constitutional right to "petition the government
for redress of grievances" but found there was little we could do to prevent
this type of intimidation.

MMA's Chuck Hadden contended that this type of legislation is unnecessary, and
even then it attempts to modify the wrong part of the law. Hadden contends
that the proposed bill tries to do what is already allowed, that is to simply
deal with frivolous lawsuits.  Countering that assessment was a staffer for
the Majority Counsel for the House, who pointed out that just getting to the
point where a suit might be dismissed by a judge can cost the SLAPPee
thousands of dollars, many weeks or months, and often may not result in a
dismissal.  This bill would give the ability for such harrassing lawsuits to
be quickly dismissed without the enormous expense that often comes into play
now.

DO YOU KNOW OF EXAMPLES OF SLAPP SUITS IN MICHIGAN?  Despite these stories,
there is clearly still significant skepticism that these types of cases exist
in Michigan.  My concern, as expressed to the committee, is that the objective
of these suits or threatened suits is to shut people up, so most will not
ever come to light, because quite simply the people WERE successfully
intimidated out of speaking up by the threat of litigation.

PLEASE PROVIDE ANY EXAMPLES OF SLAPP SUITS IN MICHIGAN TO ME (at
anne.woiwode@sierraclub.org or (517) 484-2372) with names, events, any copies
of documents, etc. that you may have.

Anne Woiwode, Sierra Club


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