Update on Oregon SLAPP

Over one month ago, just as people from all across the country were arriving in New York for the #StormSkanska: Swarm New York weekend of action, Skanska executives in Northwest filed injunctions against four activists and “No New Animal Lab” to stifle campaign activity in the Portland area. David Schmidt, Skanska USA Chief Operating Officer, and Tim Baugus, a Senior Vice President, filed a complaint alleging trespass, nuisance, and civil conspiracy and have since been dragging activists through court proceedings, using the case as a fishing expedition for information about activists and the campaign, and attempting to divert resources, time, and energy. This kind of legal action is called a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP)--the corporation’s best friend. The use of SLAPPs is not intended to just stop specific protest activity, but to stop organizing in its tracks altogether.

David Schmidt, Chief Operating Officer

 

Tim Baugus, Senior Vice President

 

This is not the first SLAPP to be filed against the campaign, nor was it the last. A year ago, Skanska executives in Seattle were granted injunctions against activist Amanda Schemkes. That case is currently on appeal. Just a few weeks ago, Skanska USA CEO and President Richard Cavallaro filed injunctions against ten individual activists, “No New Animal Lab”, and “New York City Animal Defense League.” These cases, along with the Oregon case, share a similar narrative. Across the country, these Skanska executives are alleging trespass, nuisance, harassment, and civil conspiracy in connection to a “coordinated nationwide campaign of harassment and intimidation,” specifically taking issue with “targeted protests” at their homes.

Skanska, its executives, and their corporate attorneys have also been colluding with several municipalities across the country--Sherwood, OR, Beaverton, OR, and Miami Shores, FL--to develop ordinances specifically to criminalize targeted residential picketing of Skanska executives. This new legislation is in direct response to the momentum that No New Animal Lab has built nationwide. These cities are essentially providing greater recourse for police harassment, arrest, and prosecution.

The activists and supportive networks of movement lawyers have been challenging Skanska’s increasing push back on a national scale. Last month, with the help of the Civil Liberties Defense Center, No New Animal Lab and the named activists filed a Special Motion to Strike under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP statute, challenging Skanska’s attempts to quell dissent and direct attention away from their involvement in animal research.

Hearings for the Oregon anti-SLAPP and the preliminary injunction began on Tuesday, February 23. Skanska executives, David Schmidt, and Tim Baugus were represented by two corporate law firms: Ahlers & Cressman of Seattle and Markowitz Herbold of Portland. The defendants and their attorneys were joined by a crowd of supporters. Unsurprisingly, the plaintiffs’ attorneys did not refrain from invoking the rhetoric of terrorism, fear, and violence--as is the norm for those trying to maintain power and the status quo. They made multiple outrageous attempts to construct “No New Animal Lab” as a conspiracy that engages in illegal activity and repeatedly tried to connect the defendants to the legacy of Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), the SHAC7, and, vicariously, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Plaintiffs claimed that the campaign has made them fearful of property destruction at their homes.

As the hearing progressed, the campaign and activists began settlement negotiations with the plaintiffs. Though Skanska and its executives seemed immediately concerned about the protest activities in these neighborhoods, the defendants were more concerned with moving beyond their specific neighborhoods and expanding the focus of the campaign beyond pressure against any one executive.

So three of the activists--Amanda Schemkes, Justin Kay, and Timothy Hitchins--along with “No New Animal Lab,” agreed to a Stipulated Consent Decree that limited their ability and “anyone acting under their direction or control, or in active concert or participation with them” to protest in the neighborhoods of David Schmidt and Tim Baugus, and required these defendants to remove personal contact information for these plaintiffs from social media and the No New Animal Lab website. In exchange, the parties will be covering their own attorneys’ fees and costs and the plaintiffs would dismiss their current lawsuit without prejudice. This is far less restricting and far less damaging than the original injunction sought by Skanska. Attached is the text of that document.

 

This is more of a victory than Skanska wants us to believe. Though residential picketing has enjoyed a rich history in a wide spectrum of social movements--labor, civil rights, forest defense, LGBTQ, climate justice--it is only one tool in a continually expanding tool box. Clearly residential picketing is effective. Multiple injunctions, police harassment, targeted legislation, and the court testimony of Skanska’s executives vindicates the campaign’s investment in the tactic. But there are endless avenues to use to force Skanska to cancel this project to the benefit of thousands of animals.

 

We are interested in that story. This moment is a reminder that a powerful campaign must remain ever-dynamic, and No New Animal Lab is poised for its next phase. Get ready for it, be a part of it.