February 19, 2016, Olympia, WA – Today, attorneys representing fourteen former and one current board member of the Olympia Food Co-op urged a judge to dismiss a lawsuit against them. The lawsuit is being pursued by three Co-op members who object to the board’s 2010 decision to boycott Israeli goods in support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement to end Israel’s violations of international law. Plaintiffs claim that the board members acted beyond their authority and breached their fiduciary duties. Two prior courts in this case have ruled that the Co-op board had the authority to pass the boycott under the Co-op’s bylaws.
“It has been more than four years since these former volunteer Co-op Board members were dragged into court for a decision to boycott Israeli goods―a decision made in accordance with the Co-op’s governing documents and social justice mission, and following a long tradition of other boycotts,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “It is way past time for this meritless and harassing litigation―which was only instigated because the boycott involves Israel―to finally come to an end.”
The United States Supreme Court has held that boycotts to bring about political, social, and economic change are protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.
“For any business, the ability to sell, or not sell, products is critical to living their mission. This frivolous lawsuit brought by only three of the tens of thousands of members of the Co-op is simply an effort to deny this local grocery store the right to make this basic business decision,” said Defendant Grace Cox. “I am confident that the court will uphold the Co-op’s right to engage in non-violent boycott activities that are in line with our mission and values.”
Attorneys say the lawsuit is part of a broader pattern of targeting U.S. advocacy for Palestinian rights, particularly the growing BDS movement.
“In our view, it’s time to end this meritless case, which targeted these defendants simply because the Co-op decided in 2010 to take a stand in support of Palestinian rights,” said Bruce E.H. Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, who argued on behalf of Defendants today.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2011 by five Co-op members, seeking monetary damages and an end to the boycott. In 2011, the trial court dismissed the case under Washington’s then-anti-SLAPP law, barring Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. SLAPPs are brought to silence defendants by burdening them with the costs and stress of a meritless lawsuit. The court ruled that this suit targeted protected speech and is meritless, and that the board had the authority to pass the boycott under the Co-op’s governing documents. Under the anti-SLAPP law, the court also awarded the board members $160,000 in statutory damages plus attorneys’ fees. In 2014, the Washington State Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the lawsuit, and upheld the constitutionality of the anti-SLAPP law, rejecting the plaintiffs’ challenge. In September 2015, the Washington Supreme Court found the state’s anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional and remanded the case to superior court. Recently two of the five plaintiffs withdrew from the case.
The case is Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al.
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 and Brooke Howlett 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 http://www.olympiafood.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.