Defamation Case To Require Interpretation of Texas Citizens Participation Act

The New York Times recently reported that a pending case may test the Texas Citizens Participation Act. Texas passed an Anti-SLAPP statute that went into effect just over a year ago. Essentially, it is a statute to discourage Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, hence the acronym. The Texas legislature included a provision in the statute that allows for an interlocutory appeal of the denial of a motion to dismiss a SLAPP case where the trial court doesn’t act on the motion, but where it is instead is denied as a matter of law because of the trial court’s inaction.

David Barton brought a defamation suit against Rebecca Bell-Metereau and Judy Jennings for statements allegedly made during the latters’ 2010 campaign for the Texas Board of Education. Their attorneys brought a motion to dismiss the case pursuant to the Anti-SLAPP statute. The trial court expressly denied their motion via written order. They have appealed. Barton’s lawyer now claims they have no right to an interlocutory appeal because there is no express provision for same in the act.

He has a point, but I’m skeptical. It would seem absurd to have a right to an interlocutory appeal when a trial court denies a motion through inaction, but not have that right when the trial court exercises its jurisdiction and expressly denies the same motion. I assume the Fort Worth Court of Appeals will sort this out and shed some light on the matter.