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Synopsis

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and co-counsel are representing sixteen current and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors in a lawsuit brought over their decision to boycott Israeli goods.  The lawsuit, filed in September 2011 in Washington State court, was brought by five Co-op members to prevent enforcement of the Co-op’s boycott policy and to collect monetary damages against the board members, claiming that they acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties.  The Board members have moved to strike the suit because it seeks to chill their public statements on an issue of public interest, and are asking the court to impose a statutory penalty on plaintiffs.  

Status

On February 27, 2012, Judge McPhee granted Defendants’ Anti-SLAPP Motion to strike the lawsuit, finding the case was a SLAPP – Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. On February 22, 2013, Plaintiffs appealed the trial court's decision to the Supreme Court of Washington State. On August 6, 2013, the Supreme Court transferred the case to the Court of Appeals, where it is pending. Oral argument took place on February 24, and on April 7, 2014, the Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the trial court's dismissal of the case under Washington's Anti-SLAPP statute and upheld the constitutionality of the Anti-SLAPP statute.

Description

On September 2, 2011, five plaintiffs—members of the Olympia Food Co-op in Olympia, Washington—filed a lawsuit against sixteen current and former members of the Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors for their decision to boycott Israeli goods. 

The Olympia Food Co-op, a nonprofit corporation that was formed in 1976,  is committed to making good food accessible to more people while encouraging economic and social justice.  In line with a long history of social justice work, in 2010, the Co-op Board passed a resolution by consensus to boycott Israeli goods.  Subsequently, the Co-op held annual Board elections, and the five candidates endorsed by Olympia BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions) won overwhelmingly. Three of the plaintiffs ran for the board opposing the boycott, and lost. 
 
In the complaint, Plaintiffs seek to prevent the enforcement of the boycott policy and to collect damages, claiming that the Board members acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties.  However, adopting the boycott was fully within the Board’s powers.  Moreover, Plaintiffs failed to utilize the Co-op’s member initiated ballot procedure, which allows any member to put an issue to a full membership vote by collecting signatures from 300 members.  Instead of seeking a member vote on the issue, plaintiffs decided to sue the board members in court. 
 
Defendants filed a special motion to strike the lawsuit on November 1, 2011, urging the court to strike down Plaintiffs’ effort to silence the Co-op’s principled stand on Israel’s human rights violation through a policy of BDS.
 
The special motion to strike requires parties who bring a lawsuit to demonstrate that it is not a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation—SLAPP—suit targeting constitutionally-protected free speech.  SLAPPs are civil complaints or counterclaims that target the constitutional rights of free speech and petition in connection with an issue of public concern, as well as lawful conduct in furtherance of such rights.  While many cases that qualify as SLAPPs are without legal merit, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending against a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and can divert attention away from the public issue and intimidate and silence others. On February 27, 2012, the Court issued his oral opinion, deciding the Anti-SLAPP statute applied, and stating that it was prepared to dismiss Plaintiffs’ lawsuit and award Defendants attorneys’ fees and penalties.  The judge also upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s anti-SLAPP law, which Plaintiffs had challenged. 
 
The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel on the case with CCR Cooperating attorney Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, CCR Cooperating attorney Steven Goldberg from Portland, Oregon, and Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson and Devin Smith of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.

Statement of Solidarity with the Olympia Food Co-op from TrickleUp Films.

Timeline

September 2, 2011: Five plaintiffs filed a case against sixteen current and former Board members of the Olympia Food Co-op in state court in Washington.

November 1, 2011: Defendants filed an Anti-SLAPP motion to strike Plaintiffs' complaint, seeking attorneys' fees, costs, and sanctions.

December 1, 2011: Plaintiffs filed a brief opposing Defendants' Anti-SLAPP motion/Motion to Dismiss as well as a Cross-Motion for Discovery.

December 15, 2011: Defendants filed their reply to Plaintiffs' Opposition, as well as four declarations in support of the Anti-SLAPP motion. 

January 11, 2012: Defendants filed a brief opposing Plaintiffs’ cross-motion for discovery, as well as a supporting Declaration. 

February 23, 2012: The Hearing on Defendants’ Anti-SLAPP motion/Motion to Dismiss and Plaintiffs’ Cross-Motion for Discovery took place at the Thurston County Superior Court before Judge Thomas McPhee, and on February 27, 2012: The court granted the Defendants Anti-SLAPP motion, dismissing the case.  Click here for a transcript of the Court’s oral opinion, here for a transcript of the Court's ruling on the discovery motion, and here for the press release.
 
July 12, 2012: After a hearing on fees and costs and, Judge McPhee ruled that plaintiffs are liable for the costs and fees of the suit and $160,000 in statutory damages. Click here for a transcript of the Court's ruling, and here for the press release.

February 22, 2013: Defendants appealed directly to the Washington State Supreme Court and filed their opening brief arguing that the trial court erred in granting the anti-SLAPP motion and asking the court to reverse and remand the decision so that it could proceed on the merits.

May 24, 2013: Plaintiffs-Respondents filed their response brief, arguing that the trial court properly dismissed plaintiffs’ complaint under the Anti-SLAPP statute and the trial court's decision should be affirmed in its entirety.

August 6, 2013: The Supreme court ordered that the case be transferred to the Washington State Court of Appeals.

February 24, 2014: The case was argued before the Washington State Court of Appeals. Click here for audio recording of the oral argument. 

April 7, 2014: The Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court's decision to dismiss the case under Washington's Anti-SLAPP statute and upheld the constitutionality of the anti-SLAPP statute. 

Press Releases

November 2, 2011: Food Co-op Board of Directors Fights Back Against Lawsuit Brought by Five Members Over Boycott of Israeli Goods

February 23, 2012: Constitutional Rights Attorneys Urge Court to Dismiss Lawsuit Filed Over Boycott of Israeli Goods

February 27, 2012: Judge Dismisses Lawsuit Filed Over Boycott of Israeli Goods

July 12, 2012: Plaintiffs in Olympia Food Co-op SLAPP Case Assessed Penalty, Costs and Attorneys’ Fees for Suit over Boycott of Israeli Goods
 

Attached Files