Dallas, Texas—A Dallas judge yesterday ordered that nationally renowned law professor Richard Epstein be dismissed from a defamation lawsuit brought by Dallas developer H. Walker Royall. In that lawsuit, Royall claimed that Epstein defamed him merely by writing a blurb on the back cover of Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. Carla Main, the author of Bulldozed, and Encounter Books, the book’s publisher, remain targets of Royall’s lawsuit.
Bulldozed tells the story of eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Texas, and ties that story to the larger issue of eminent domain abuse in America after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London. Royall was a key player in the Freeport debacle, having signed an agreement with the city of Freeport whereby the city would take land owned by a local seafood business through eminent domain and transfer it to Royall’s company for a luxury marina development project. During that dispute, Royall sued the targets of the takings, the Gore family, over statements they made about Royall on a website opposing the taking. When Carla Main wrote a book about eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Royall sued her, too, along with her publisher. When Epstein contributed a blurb to the back cover, Royall sued him. Royall also sued a local newspaper that ran a review of Bulldozed and the writer who wrote the review.
Epstein is now out of the lawsuit. Dallas Judge Carlos Cortez ordered Epstein’s dismissal after Royall failed to show that the Texas court had jurisdiction over the Illinois resident, who has not been to Texas in more than 13 years.
Epstein is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and New York University School of Law. Ironically, he is the author of a prominent book on eminent domain, as well as a torts casebook that is used in law schools across the United States.
“It is a great relief to be dismissed on jurisdictional grounds from a suit that should never have been brought,” said Epstein. “I am confident that Carla Main and her co-defendants will be fully vindicated on the merits. It is a sad day when reporting of the highest professional standards invites groundless defamation suits that only bring discredit on people like H. Walker Royall, who unwisely brought this action.”
Unfortunately, although Epstein has now been dismissed, Main and Encounter remain as defendants. “This is just the first step in vindicating everyone involved in the writing of Bulldozed,” said lead attorney Matt Miller, executive director of the Institute for Justice Texas Chapter, a public interest law firm that represents Epstein, Main, and Encounter in the matter. “People have a First Amendment right to speak out against eminent domain abuse and to write about developers who willingly involve themselves in those projects.”
Institute for Justice Senior Attorney Dana Berliner added, “Like H. Walker Royall, developers across the country are increasingly using defamation law to attempt to silence their critics. Courageous journalists, and the publishers who support them, must be fully vindicated whenever their free speech rights are threatened by frivolous lawsuits like this one.”