Current Co-op Board Weighs in, Saying Case Should Be Dismissed
December 19, Olympia, WA – Today, attorneys at the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) called for a Washington State court to end a seven-year litigation battle against former volunteer board members of the Olympia Food Cooperative over their decision to boycott Israeli goods as part of the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel for violations of international law and the denial of Palestinian human rights. The lawsuit was first filed in 2011 in a Washington State court by five co-op members seeking to block the co-op's boycott and to collect monetary damages against the board members, claiming that they had acted beyond the scope of their authority and breached their fiduciary duties.
The motion argues that it is past time for the protracted and burdensome litigation to end; the board had the authority to pass the boycott, as previous courts have found, and not a single defendant remains a board member of the co-op. The filing comes as the current board of directors of the co-op passed a resolution on November 16, 2017, affirming that the litigation, which was purportedly brought on behalf of the co-op, was not approved by the co-op, is not in the co-op’s interest, and should be dismissed.
“The aim of this meritless lawsuit has always been to silence speech critical of Israel, as part of an orchestrated effort to do the same across the country in response to a growing movement for Palestinian rights that will not be stopped,” said Center for Constitutional Rights Deputy Legal Director Maria LaHood. “The end of this harassment-by-lawsuit is long past due.”
CCR and partner organization Palestine Legal have documented “the Palestine Exception” to free speech, the broad and growing pattern of suppression against Palestinian human rights activism across the United States. Tactics used to suppress Palestine advocacy include baseless legal complaints, administrative disciplinary actions, harassment, firings, legislative attacks, and false accusations of terrorism and antisemitism. Palestine Legal responded to 650 such incidents of suppression targeting speech supportive of Palestinian rights from 2014 to 2016.
Said Bruce Johnson of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP, “From the beginning, this lawsuit sought to penalize and chill the Co-Op’s freedom of speech on behalf of Palestinian rights, and we hope that the Superior Court will agree and grant summary judgment.”
The former board member defendants are asking the court to rule on the merits of the case and to end the litigation on a number of grounds. First, they argue, the board members were within their authority to adopt the boycott, and the decision was consistent with their fiduciary responsibilities. Second, the board members’ decision to boycott Israeli goods is protected expression under the First Amendment. Third, the plaintiffs lack standing to challenge the former board members’ decision. Fourth, not a single defendant who was originally sued remains a board member of the co-op, so the plaintiffs’ request for them to reverse the decision is moot. Finally, defendants argue that plaintiffs cannot bring a suit on behalf of the co-op when the current independent board rejects it.
CCR and co-counsel originally obtained dismissal of the lawsuit in 2011 under a Washington State statute that protected against Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The Washington Supreme Court ultimately struck down the SLAPP law in 2015, sending the case back to the lower courts. After engaging in some discovery, the plaintiffs essentially abandoned the litigation until recently.
“We have endured the stress of seven years of legal harassment just for peacefully boycotting Israeli goods,” said Grace Cox. “Taking a stand for economic and social justice is at the heart of the co-op’s mission, so it was our responsibility to support justice for Palestinians—and our protected constitutional right to do so.”
The Center for Constitutional Rights is counsel in Davis, et al., v. Cox, et al with CCR cooperating counsel Barbara Harvey from Detroit, Michigan, along with Seattle attorneys Bruce E.H. Johnson and Brooke E. Howlett of Davis Wright Tremaine LLP.
For more information, visit CCR’s 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.