Defense 'SLAPPS' Plaintiffs' Case
In this non-profit agency directors and officers liability case, our client, a non-profit environmental protection association, was dismissed with prejudice on preliminary objections in the Court of Common Pleas of Butler County, Pennsylvania. The plaintiffs were a group of residential homeowners who leased portions of their properties to Marcellus Shale energy companies. The defendants included our client and other nearby property owners who had filed a claim with a local zoning board challenging the ordinance allowing the drilling. The plaintiffs alleged that the zoning ordinance challenge was not legitimate and was filed merely to harass the plaintiffs and to tortiously interfere with their contractual rights with the energy companies. Our preliminary objections were grounded upon the argument that the plaintiffs’ lawsuit was a Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation (SLAPP) suit and that the defendants were entitled to immunity from the plaintiffs’ lawsuit based upon the Noerr-Pennington Doctrine. This doctrine provides that citizens are immune from liability with respect to their right to petition governmental agencies to adopt change or reform. The court agreed and dismissed the plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice (we had previously had the original complaint dismissed without prejudice).