October 22, 2019, Lacey, WA – Today, human rights lawyers urged a Washington appeals court to uphold a ruling that dismissed a lawsuit against former volunteer board members of the Olympia Food Co-op for the co-op’s decision to boycott Israeli goods. The case was originally filed in 2011 by five co-op members, purporting to act on behalf of the co-op and seeking to block the boycott and collect monetary damages against the board members. It was dismissed five months later as a SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, but reinstated when Washington’s anti-SLAPP statute was struck down. The ruling appealed today dismissed the case a second time.
“We’re looking forward to a final resolution of this interminable case,” said defendant Grace Cox, who has been forced to defend against the lawsuit for more than eight years. “This attempt to chill our right to free speech should have ended long ago.”
In dismissing the case, the lower court found that, contrary to claims by the plaintiffs that the co-op was harmed by the boycott, membership and sales increased following the boycott, and thus the plaintiffs had failed to show the co-op had been injured. Attorneys today urged the appellate court to uphold that decision.
“This eight-year-old, harassing lawsuit is a textbook attempt to stifle protected advocacy for Palestinian rights,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “We hope the court will put an end to this abuse of the judicial system once and for all.”
Since this case was filed in 2011, two plaintiffs have voluntarily dropped out, and a new board of directors passed a resolution affirming that the lawsuit was not approved by the co-op, is not in the co-op’s interest, and should be dismissed. Early on, the plaintiffs threatened to sue if the boycott resolution was not rescinded, warning “this process will become considerably more complicated, burdensome, and expensive than it has been already.” Discovery in the case later revealed communications in which plaintiffs celebrated the fact that their lawsuit has caused other co-ops to refrain from boycotting Israeli goods.
“The lawsuit directly targeted the co-op board’s freedom of expression on a matter of significant public concern: the rights of Palestinians under Israeli occupation,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. “The trial court correctly dismissed these claims as meritless, and we’re hopeful that the Court of Appeals will affirm that dismissal.”
Lawyers say the lawsuit is part of a broad and growing pattern of suppressing activism in support of Palestinian rights, a phenomenon that the Center for Constitutional Rights and Palestine Legal have documented and called the “Palestine Exception” to free speech. The organizations report the widespread use of administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism, and baseless legal complaints. Palestine Legal has documented 1,247 incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights between 2014 and 2018.
The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al. with Seattle attorney Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
For more information, visit the Center for Constitutional Rights’ case page.
For more information about Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, visit http://www.dwt.com/.
The Center for Constitutional Rights works with communities under threat to fight for justice and liberation through litigation, advocacy, and strategic communications. Since 1966, the Center for Constitutional Rights has taken on oppressive systems of power, including structural racism, gender oppression, economic inequity, and governmental overreach. Learn more at ccrjustice.org.