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Issaquah Law Group: Experienced Counsel; Client Focus

PHILOSOPHY: Formed in 2014, Issaquah Law Group is a law firm with one focus: providing businesses and insurers with high quality legal representation with the responsiveness of a smaller firm. ILG was founded on the principle that strong client relationships are the key to successful legal representation and strong relationships are built upon clear and consistent communication. 

LITIGATION: We work closely with our clients to fully and accurately understand their goals, work collaboratively to formulate specific legal strategies, and execute the agreed plan of action utilizing methods most likely to result in the efficient and effective resolution of the matter. ILG attorneys have a broad base of litigation experience to draw on in all Federal and State courts from on-the-ground investigations to Supreme Court appeals in the areas of personal injury and wrongful death, product liability, commercial general liability, labor & employment, construction litigation, and catastrophic losses due to fire and explosion.

BUSINESS LAW: Rarely is the path from point A to point B a straight line, so our role in a business law practice is to find alternatives, devise workable strategies, and keep your business ideas, goals and objectives moving toward realization. ILG’s business attorneys help clients achieve their goals with respect to business formation, intellectual property, labor and employment, CAN-SPAM, copyright and trademark

COMMUNITY: In addition, the Lawyers at Issaquah Law Group remain active in the legal and civic community. A core commitment of our Issaquah Attorneys is community service. Our attorneys' civic involvement includes the King County Civil Rights Commission; the City of Issaquah Planning Policy Commission; the Northwest Screenwriters Guild, service as a pro tem judge. We live and work in the Pacific Northwest, and we aim to make it a better place.

In addition, through The Amateur Law Professor Blog and LinkedIn postings, we share pertinent opinions and decisions of the Washington State Supreme Court, as well as the pertinent opinions and decisions of the Washington State Courts of Appeal so that our clients can be as update to date on cutting legal issues as we are.

WA Supreme Court: WA Yakima anti-SLAPP suit gets slapped.

Henne v. City of Yakima

So there is this law called an anti-SLAPP statute. It is designed to curb people from infringing on your free speech rights. Only the way it is starting to be used is a sword by defendants when people file lawsuits. The acronym fully means “anti strategic lawsuit against public participation.” A SLAPP lawsuit, by design, is used to curb free speech. Usually this arises in when someone claims defamation, but the things that were said were true.

The first iteration of the law dealt with people who made good faith reports to government entities. If someone sued you for making the report, you could file a suit. In 2002, the law was changed to include damages for people that successfully assert a statutory defense to a suit. The most likely being that the thing said was true. In 2010, the law changed again to put it beyond just reporting to governmental entities, to any action “involving public participation."

So that’s the background. What about this case specifically. Here, Henne (a police officer with Yakima) filed an employment lawsuit against the city, saying that several officers complained as harassment and retaliation, which even led to an internal investigation. The city said that this was classic Anti-Slapp, because the lawsuit was based on coworker complaints and the resulting internal investigation. In essence, the employee complaints were protected, thus Henne could not base his lawsuit on them without it amounting to a SLAPP.

The Superior Court (trial level court in Washington) found that this was an improper use of the anti-SLAPP lawsuit, because Henne was seeking redress of grievances from the government, and “that’s exactly the opposite of the purpose of the statute."

So what of the lawsuit. First, the supreme court held that because it wasn’t the government doing the talking, the government could not bring an anti-SLAPP motion. Essentially, if Henne had sued the individual officers who reported him, that may amount to an anti-SLAPP. Bue here he sued the City for the conduct of the officers, which is different. The City made no speech, and thus Henne’s lawsuit could not be anti-speech. Nothing in the statute allows one person to assert an anti-SLAPP on behalf of the speech of others.

The use of anti-SLAPP statutes now has a chink in the armor. The way it is being used against people who bring legitimate lawsuits is atrocious, and hopefully future cases will bring this issue to bear.

Because this an important case, I will provide the breakdown. Justice McCloud authored the opinion with Justices Stephens, Wiggins, Owens, Gonzalez, and Chief Justice Madsen concurring.

Justice Fairhurst offered a concurrence in the result, but noted that Yakima failed to prove in the record that Henne’s suit was a SLAPP suit. The basis for Henne’s claims were how the city responded to his complaints of being harassed by others. Though the harassment may also have been speech conduct, the core of the suit was how the City failed to respond to Henne’s complaint that their speech had risen to the level of harassment and creating a hostile work environment. It was not an action involving public participation and petition. “It cannot be contended that the substantial penalties in the anti-SLAPP statute were intended to prevent mere in artful pleadings.” Justice Fairhurst was joined by remaining Justices Chuck Johnson and Yu.

All nine felt Yakima’s stance was off the mark. Its a great victory for the right of access to the Courts.

The litigation attorneys at Issaquah Legal Services are well-versed in the use of anti-SLAPP motions by the defense, and will work to make sure your voice is heard.

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