On Tuesday, January 20, 2015, the constitutionality of a Washington State law protecting citizens from meritless lawsuits that undermine free speech rights will be defended in oral arguments before the Washington Supreme Court. The lawsuit at issue had challenged the Olympia Food Co-op board's decision to boycott goods from Israel in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to end Israel's occupation of Palestinian lands. Center for Constitutional Rights co-counsel Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP will defend the Coop board members’ right to be protected from Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs), which are filed against defendants because of their speech or public participation on a matter of public concern. SLAPPs are brought to silence the defendants by burdening them with the costs and stress of a lawsuit, irrespective of the ultimate merit and outcome of the case. The case was filed by five co-op members against 16 current and former board members. A lower court swiftly dismissed the case as a SLAPP and held that participation in the boycott is protected by the First Amendment, a decision upheld by the Court of Appeals.
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 Davis v. Cox, 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 moved to strike the suit because it seeks to chill their public statements on an issue of public interest, and asked the court to impose a statutory penalty on plaintiffs.
The Washington Supreme Court granted Plaintiffs' petition for review on October 9, 2014. Defendant-Respondents' supplemental brief was filed on November 21, 2014.