Every year thousands of people are sued in the USA for speaking out against governments and corporations. Such activities are supposed to be protected by the First Amendment to the US Constitution but this has not stopped powerful organisations who want to silence their opponents. Some examples:
In 1986 a woman in Texas was sued by a company, Hill Sand Co., for $5 million for using the term ‘dump’ for a landfill and her husband, who had not been involved in the protest, was sued because he “failed to control his wife”. After nearly three years of court appearances and thousands of dollars in legal fees, during which time many people withdrew from the campaign in fear, the law suit was dropped. Hill Sand closed down and a couple of years later the landfill was investigated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as a hazardous waste site that needed to be cleaned up.
Reference: George W. Pring, Penelope Canan and Vicky Thomas-McGuirk, ‘SLAPPS: A New Crisis and Opportunity for the Government Attorney-part 1’, National Environmental Enforcement Journal, No. April, 1994, p. 3.
In Missouri a high school teacher, in a letter to the editor, urged her local community to attend hearings being held by the state environmental agency on a medical waste incinerator and to testify against approval being granted. The Canadian incinerator company suited her for $500,000 for libel.
Reference: Diana Jean Schemo, ‘Silencing the Opposition Gets Harder’, New York Times, 2 July 1992
Betty Jane Blake opposed a developer, Terra Homes Inc, that wanted to cut down some trees in her street. She put up signs saying “This neighbourhood will not be Terraized” and tied red ribbons around the tree trunks. She was hit with a $6.6 million dollar law suit for defamation, interference in business and trespassing. The company also sued all the residents who attended a meeting at the Town Hall to discuss the development. The company eventually dropped the suit but not before residents had one by one signed affidavits swearing that they had not taken part in putting up signs and ribbons and dropped out of the campaign from fear.
In 1996 the Consumers Union (CU) reported that the Isuzu Trooper "tipped up severely on two wheels during a CU emergency avoidance maneuver. We reported these test results, and stated that, in our expert judgment, such performance is Not Acceptable." Consequently Isuzu Motors Ltd sued CU for libel and product disparagement in 1997. After a long trial the CU was found not liable in 2000.
In 2006, after the Ecology Center at Ann Arbor, published a report claiming that lindane was "acutely toxic to the nervous system" and capable of causing "seizures, numbness, motor restlessness, anxiety, tremors, cramps and unconsciousness", the company that sells lindane, Morton Grove Pharmaceuticals, sued it and two doctors who had reviewed the report, for "disseminating false, misleading, and libelous statements about the safety profile and effectiveness of Lindane".
Lindane was banned that year by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for use as a pesticide because of its adverse impact on the environment and it use on animals had also been prohibited but it was still being used for treating head lice on children in the US. The Ecology Center was campaiging to have lindane banned for pharmaceutical use in Michigan. This use was banned in many other countries and also in California. Morton Grove demanded over $9 million in damages and the case was eventually settled in 2008. In the settlement, the Center did not admit liability but agreed to make some minor clarifying statements on its website. In 2009 Michigan House of Representatives voted to restrict the pharmaceutical use of lindane.