Frivolous Lawsuit Aimed at Silencing Critics of Eminent Domain Abuse

In Kelo v. City of New London, the Supreme Court ruled that a locality could use its eminent domain authority to seize private property to sell to private developers. Cato’s amicus brief opposing this abuse of the Takings Clause is available here, and an article on Kelo and other property law rulings of the 2004-2005 term by law professor James W. Ely, Jr. is available here.

One positive outcome of Kelo was the legislative restriction of eminent domain usage in state houses across the country. On the other hand, developers and localities have attempted to muzzle their critics with frivolous lawsuits. The Institute for Justice is currently litigating one of these actions in Texas:

Investigative journalist Carla Main wrote a book about eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Texas.  The city is attempting to force out a generations-old family shrimp and marine supply business to make way for a luxury marina development that was to be owned and operated by Royall’s private company.  When the victims of this eminent domain abuse complained, Royall sued them for defamation.  Main’s book, Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land, tells the story of the Gore family’s generations-old shrimp business and how Royall and the city tried to take their land.  Prominent law professor Richard Epstein (University of Chicago and New York University) contributed a blurb to the back cover of Bulldozed.

Royall sued Main, Epstein and Encounter Books (the publisher) for defamation over the contents of Bulldozed.  He also sued two newspapers and a journalist who published reviews of Bulldozed.  Royall is attempting to use the power of the courts to silence his critics.

A Dallas trial court ruled last year that the lawsuit was not barred by the First Amendment, even though Royall could not point to any statement in Main’s book that came close to the legal standard for defamation. The Institute for Justice is appealing the trial court’s decision. As Bill McGurn writes in today’s Wall Street Journal, this suit is one of the “high costs of Mr. Kennedy’s concurrence” in Kelo. Here’s hoping that rights protected by both the First and Fifth Amendments can prevail.

Susette Kelo, the owner of the Little Pink House at the center of the Kelo case, spoke at the Cato Institute about her ordeal, and her story is the subject of this Cato Institute video.