Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-15-01355-CV (July 6, 2016)
Justices Lang, Evans, and Whitehill (Opinion)
Rendering judgment for Watson and dismissing the claims based on statements in his Rule 202 petition, the Court held:
- Watson’s Rule 202 petition was an “exercise of the [constitutionally protected] right to petition” under § 27.001(4)(A)(i) of the statute.
- The statute does not require petitioning to be “made in connection with a matter of public concern” to be protected, as does an “exercise of the right of free speech,” and the Court declined to engraft such a requirement onto the statute.
- Because the statements in his Rule 202 petition were protected by “absolute privilege,” Watson established a valid defense to the Hardmans’ claims arising from those statements.
- Allegations of defamation regarding misappropriation of publicly solicited funds relate to “a matter of public concern,” such that the statements potentially qualify as protected “free speech” under the statute.
- A movant/defendant may demonstrate the allegedly defamatory remarks relate to “a matter of public concern” by reference to pleadings; additional evidence beyond the pleadings was not necessary.