Author and Publisher Ask Court to Dismiss Eminent Domain Defamation Lawsuit
Dallas, Texas—The author and publisher of Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land today asked a Dallas state court to dismiss the defamation lawsuit filed against them by Dallas developer H. Walker Royall. Published in 2007, Bulldozed chronicles events in Freeport, Texas, where Royall signed a development agreement to have the city take land owned by Western Seafood—a generations-old shrimping business—and give that land to Royall’s development company for a luxury yacht marina. Royall sued the book’s author, Carla Main, and its publisher, Encounter Books, in October 2008, seeking monetary damages and a permanent prohibition on further printing or distribution of the book.
Royall’s lawsuit is part of a national trend. Similar suits have been filed in Tennessee, Missouri, Washington and elsewhere by developers and government officials looking to silence critics of eminent domain for private gain. Earlier, when the Gore family—owners of Western Seafood and the original victims of Royall’s eminent domain abuse effort in Freeport—complained against Royall’s actions, he sued them for defamation. In the present lawsuit, Royall has also sued the Galveston newspaper that reviewed the book, along with the book reviewer. Law Professor Richard Epstein, whom Royall also sued, was dismissed from the lawsuit in March.
When asked by Main and Encounter to identify specific passages in Bulldozed that defame him, Royall could point only to Main’s criticism of his involvement in the Freeport marina project and a handful of random statements that fall far short of the legal standard of defamation.
“Mr. Royall does not seem to understand that the First Amendment protects the right of journalists to criticize people who seek to profit from public projects,” said Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter (IJ-TX), the nonprofit public interest law firm that is defending Main and her publisher. “Mr. Royall agreed to have the city of Freeport take his neighbors’ land and give it to him so that he could build a luxury yacht marina. Carla Main enjoys the same right all Americans enjoy under the First Amendment, to chronicle and condemn Mr. Royall’s behavior. We asked Mr. Royall to tell us how, exactly, Bulldozed defames him and he came up empty-handed. Carla wrote a hard-hitting exposé of the events in Freeport, but she did not defame Mr. Royall.”
Main is a veteran journalist who was an associate editor of The National Law Journal, where she edited the opinion page and wrote a column on law and society. She wrote for The Wall Street Journal, Policy Review, National Review, The American Lawyer and The New York Sun, among other publications. Before becoming a journalist, Main practiced as an attorney in New York City for ten years. Bulldozed was reviewed in many newspapers, including The Wall Street Journal, was nominated for the Texas Historical Commission’s annual T.R. Fehrenbach Book Award and won a highly competitive independent press award for political science writing.
“The book was a labor of love,” said Main. “I researched it meticulously and gave Mr. Royall multiple opportunities to be interviewed. His primary complaint about the book seems to be that I described him as participating in an economic development taking, which he did.”
“Eminent domain for private gain is the subject of nationwide public debate,” said Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner, who was co-counsel in the Kelo v. New London Supreme Court case, which is addressed at length in Bulldozed. “If Walker Royall doesn’t want anyone to talk about him or his development deals, he shouldn’t enter into deals that involve a city’s condemnation of his neighbors. Today we are asking the court to put an end to Mr. Royall’s lawsuit spree.”
If successful, the motion filed today will result in a complete dismissal of the lawsuit against Main and her publisher.
Founded in 1991, the Virginia-based Institute for Justice fought the landmark legal battle to protect property rights in the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing Kelo v. City of New London in 2005. The Institute has successfully defended eminent domain abuse activists sued for speaking out in St. Louis, Mo., and Clarksville, Tenn.