No ruling has yet been made in the appeal of the interesting case of Dallas land developer H. Walker Royall v. Carla Main, wherein Royall claims defamation for how he is depicted in her book, Bulldozed: ‘Kelo’, Eminent Domain and the American Lust for Land. The Appeals Court for the Fifth District of Texas first heard the case last fall, but there has been no decision yet in regards to defamation or banning the book.
Royall filed the lawsuit claiming that Main and her publisher, Encounter for Culture and Education, defamed him and “hurt his feelings”. His attorneys insist that Royall is a “private citizen who never sought publicity and who values his privacy.”
The lead attorney for Main contends that the developer may disagree with the book, but criticism is a form of speech protected by the First Amendment. In the courtroom, neither the developer nor his attorneys apparently showed that the facts in the book are untrue. Main and her publisher wrote in the appellant’s reply brief that, “Encounter did publish a book about a controversial redevelopment project in which Royall had a leading role. Yet, the courts do not exist to protect hurt feelings and they certainly do not exist to allow participants in controversial public projects to squelch critical political speech.”
Bulldozed is about the seizing of private property from people and communities that did not have the ability to fight back. Main focuses on current events regarding eminent domain, including when Royall signed a development agreement in Freeport, Texas where the city took land owned by a longstanding shrimping business, Western Seafood, so that Royall could build a luxury yacht marina.
Main’s lawyers argued that eminent domain and major development projects involve public issues and thus are not subject to defamation claims and that there is no legal basis to ban distribution or further printing of the book. Her lawyers stated that any conclusions Main has raised from the facts, predictions about Royall’s development, and political views are protected under the First Amendment and cannot constitute libel.
In a defamation case, an individual plaintiff must usually show among other things that the defendant published a false statement that damaged his or her reputation and that the defendant acted with negligence or an otherwise sufficient state of mind. Austin defamation lawyer Gregory D. Jordan is watching the case closely as more defamation lawsuits are appearing where First Amendment rights are being asserted. Jordan is an accomplished Austin trial lawyer with more than 20 years of experience representing plaintiffs and defendants in defamation cases.