Animal Rights Activists Fight Corporate Lawsuits




Animal Rights Activists Fight Corporate Lawsuits

No New Animal Lab Activists Appeal Decision on Skanska Restraining Orders



At this morning’s oral arguments before Judge Laura Inveen in the King County Superior Court, Judge Inveen asked that both parties in the appeal of SLAPPs against a No New Animal Lab campaign organizer submit additional briefing and return for continued oral arguments in February. Judge Inveen expressed concern that the findings of District Court Judge Kato were without explanation--Judge Kato simply issued boilerplate rulings that did not discern between First Amendment protected activity and unlawful harassment, nor did Judge Kato state what conduct the campaign organizer engaged in or directed other people to do--and so requested briefing about whether she can make a ruling or must remand the case to Judge Kato.

Seattle -- On Friday in the King County Superior Court, the No New Animal Lab campaign takes the fight against the construction of a new underground animal research facility at the University of Washington from the streets to the courtroom. Last winter, four Skanska executives filed protection orders against campaign co-organizer Amanda Schemkes, and she now appeals those orders with attorneys Lauren Regan, Executive Director of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, and Jenn Kaplan, President of the Seattle Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

Skanska is a multinational, multi-billion dollar construction corporation that is contracted to build the animal research facility. The No New Animal Lab campaign began with a successful lawsuit against the UW Board of Regents for their illegal approval process for the lab construction, and the campaign has since grown into an international grassroots effort determined to stop the construction -- with a primary goal being to convince Skanska to drop their contract with the UW.

Skanska executives at the corporation's Seattle office -- Chris Toher, Dave Harrison, Lew Guerrette, and James McReynolds -- filed protection orders against Schemkes in an attempt to stifle the growing protests in Seattle. Such lawsuits are known as "SLAPPs" (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and are often used by corporations against protest movements in an attempt to chill dissent and disrupt campaign organizing. Rather than outright criminalizing protest activity, corporations are able to exploit the legal system, dragging grassroots activists through frivolous civil court proceedings and draining and redirecting both time and material resources. SLAPPs exist to shrewdly muzzle movements that seek to hold corporations and their executives accountable.

The District Court granted Skanska's orders, finding that protests on public sidewalks were not protected speech, an interpretation with potentially dangerous effects.  Schemkes now appeals that decision to protect the rights of activists in the streets and to show Skanska that corporate tactics to chill protest activity will be met with strong resistance from the No New Animal Lab campaign.

Since the filing of these lawsuits, No New Animal Lab has grown into a community-driven movement that is dedicated to stopping the lab and making sure that no animals are ever buried inside of it. Two marches of hundreds of people have descended on the UW, two protesters locked to excavation equipment for 12 hours to stop construction at the site, activists embarked on a national protest tour against Skanska executives, and organizers in over a dozen U.S. cities -- as well as internationally -- have held events and protests under the banner of the campaign. The campaign has even reached the home of Skanska USA CEO Richard Cavallaro with protests in his neighborhood. Now, activists from all across the U.S. look towards a national convergence on Skanska USA's home turf on January 15-17, with a mass action in New York City where their headquarters and top U.S. executives reside.

"This campaign has sparked powerful opposition to the building of the lab, and there was never any question about dealing with the SLAPPs from Skanska with a strong fight as well," says Schemkes. "From the beginning, this has been about making sure that the new animal lab never gets built, about making sure that no animal is ever hidden underground inside of it to be tortured and killed. The lives of those animals are our inspiration -- and Skanska's attempts to stop us from saving them just show why it is ever important that we continue to organize, continue to resist. Stopping the lab is up to us.”

When: Friday, December 18, 9:00am

Where: King County Superior Court, 516 3rd Ave, Seattle (courtroom of Judge Laura Inveen)