April 7, 2014, Seattle – Today, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of a lawsuit filed by five members of the Olympia Food Co-op against current and former members of the Co-op’s Board of Directors for their decision to boycott Israeli goods. The court held that the lawsuit was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, or SLAPP, and that participation in the boycott is protected by the First Amendment. The court also affirmed $160,000 in statutory damages, as well as attorneys’ fees and costs for the board members, and awarded attorneys’ fees for the appeal. The lawsuit is part of a broader pattern of targeting pro-Palestinian activists in the United States, particularly in legislatures and across college campuses.
“Those who would try to intimidate concerned citizens speaking out on behalf of Palestinian human rights should take note,” said CCR Senior Staff Attorney Maria LaHood. “The law and history are on the side of peaceful boycotts for social change, and today’s ruling reaffirms that this time-honored tradition is protected by the First Amendment. Instead of trying to suppress speech calling for Palestinian human rights, opponents should address such speech on the merits.”
The lawsuit was filed in 2011 and sought both monetary damages and to end the Co-op’s boycott of Israeli goods, claiming that the defendants had acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties as board members. The boycott is part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights by Israel.
Said Bruce Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, “I’m delighted that this new state law, which I drafted and the legislature adopted in 2010, has protected the free speech rights of the Olympia Food Co-op from a retaliatory lawsuit targeting board members because of their views on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process. This is an excellent decision reaffirming the state’s anti-SLAPP law, which protects the rights of all Washington citizens against meritless lawsuits penalizing public discussion.”
In today’s ruling, the Court of Appeals also upheld the constitutionality of Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute, which the plaintiffs had challenged.
“We are thrilled to hear that, as 16 individual co-defendants, our right to freedom of speech has been upheld. We are also excited that Washington's anti-SLAPP law has been upheld. Boycotts are a longstanding form of non-violent political expression; using the Court system to attempt to silence our right of expression clearly qualifies as a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” said Grace Cox - co-defendant and Co-op staff member.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel on the case with CCR cooperating counsel Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, and Steven Goldberg from Portland, Oregon, along with Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson, Angela Galloway, and Devin Smith of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com/.
The Olympia Food Co-op is a member-based, not-for-profit, natural foods grocery store with two locations in Olympia, WA. The Olympia Food Co-op has provided healthy, organic and local food to the Olympia area since 1977, with an emphasis on promoting social and environmental responsibility. The stores are collectively managed and largely volunteer-run. Visit www.olympiafood.coop