HOUSTON – In a significant ruling upholding the ability of courts to protect individuals from threatening online speech, the Texas First Court of Appeals affirmed an earlier decision by a Harris County judge ordering two defendants to delete social media posts that had encouraged violence against a Houston businesswoman and her family.
The ruling stems from a temporary injunction obtained by AZA in August 2018 on behalf of a Vietnamese-American businesswoman who was the target of malicious Facebook posts that accused her of being a secret Viet Cong operative. Multiple responses to the posts threatened violence against the businesswoman and her family. The temporary injunction entered in the 152nd District Court of Harris County required the defendants to delete posts that encouraged violence against the businesswoman or her family, or that provided their home addresses.
The defendants appealed the temporary injunction, arguing that the posts were protected by the First Amendment.
In rejecting the defendants’ arguments, the appellate court ruled that the temporary injunction was an appropriate way to return the parties to their “last peaceable status” before the inflammatory accusations had been published. The court noted that “true threats are not protected by the First Amendment” under U.S. Supreme Court jurisprudence. In addition, the court found that it was within the trial court’s power to issue an injunction to address the probable risk of irreparable injury in the form of physical violence.
The ruling is the second appellate win for the plaintiff in the lawsuit. In October 2019, the First Court of Appeals held that the trial court had properly denied the defendants’ motion to dismiss the case under the Texas Citizens Participation Act.
“This was an important ruling about the ability of courts to protect people from threats of violence online,” said AZA partner Ryan Hackney, who is working on this case with firm partner Todd Mensing and associate Sammy Ford IV. “The injunction protected our client from a very dangerous situation created by the defendants’ false statements about her on Facebook. We look forward to proving our client’s defamation claims at trial, but the most important thing is that our client and her family are safe.”
AZA, or Ahmad, Zavitsanos, Anaipakos, Alavi & Mensing P.C., is a Houston-based law firm that is home to true courtroom lawyers with a formidable track record in complex commercial litigation, including energy, intellectual property and business dispute cases. AZA is recognized by Chambers USA 2019 among the best in Texas commercial law; by U.S. News – Best Lawyers’ Best Law Firms as one of the country’s best commercial litigation firms for eight years running; was named 2019 Litigation Department of the Year by Texas Lawyer; and was previously dubbed by Law360 a Texas Powerhouse law firm. National corporate counsel named AZA one of the country’s best in client service among law firms serving the Fortune 500 and 1000.