Hillsboro, OR — On January 29th, No New Animal Lab, with representation from the Civil Liberties Defense Center, filed an anti-SLAPP Special Motion to Strike against injunctions filed on behalf of two executives of Skanska USA. Skanska and its key decision makers have been the subject of a year-long protest campaign, organized under the banner of No New Animal Lab, for their $90 million contract to build a large, underground animal research lab for the University of Washington (UW).
Skanska executives at the corporation’s Portland office filed for injunctions against four activists and “No New Animal Lab” in an attempt to stifle the growing national protests. Such lawsuits are known as “SLAPPs” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) and are often used by corporations against protest movements in an attempt to chill dissent and disrupt campaign organizing. Rather than outright criminalizing protest activity, corporations attempt to exploit the legal system, dragging grassroots activists through frivolous civil court proceedings and draining and redirecting both time and material resources. SLAPPs exist to shrewdly muzzle movements that seek to hold corporations and their executives accountable and are backdoor attempts to legislate unreasonable restrictions upon First Amendment rights to free speech and assembly.
The executives who filed these lawsuits are David Schmidt, the Skanska Chief Operating Officer who authorized the UW lab contract on behalf of Skanska, and Tim Baugus, a Skanska Senior Vice President; both hold positions of power and influence within their company. Schmidt and Baugus complain of residential picketing and chalking in their neighborhoods, but public streets–even those that run through neighborhoods–are traditional public forums that are long established as protected arenas for the exercise of First Amendment rights, which includes speech and conduct that some may find offensive. Residential picketing has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court and is a tactic with a history of use in a variety of social movements, such as labor, forest defense, climate justice, anti-gentrification, and LGBTQ .
The activists and No New Animal Lab (NNAL) are represented by the Civil Liberties Defense Center (CLDC), which has represented other activists against corporate lawsuits, including people organizing with the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas. NNAL and the CLDC filed a Special Motion to Strike under Oregon’s anti-SLAPP statute, effectively challenging Skanska’s attempts to quell dissent and direct attention away from their involvement in animal research. The hearing on the motion and preliminary injunctions is set for February 23 – 25 at the Washington County Courthouse in Hillsboro, OR.
“The campaign against Skanska is about challenging power–the power to callously decide the fate of thousands; the power to construct lives of suffering, captivity, and pain; and the power to evade accountability through the impersonal structure of corporations,” said a spokesperson for No New Animal Lab. “When you challenge power, you get a response. These SLAPP injunctions are just that–a response from Skanska, one of the largest corporations of its kind. The No New Animal Lab campaign interprets these lawsuits as a measure of its effectiveness.”
The No New Animal Lab campaign has grown substantially in the last year, and the pressure against Skanska is at an all-time high. In mid-January, hundreds of people from all over the country converged in New York to protest the company’s U.S. headquarters and CEO and President Richard Cavallaro, and Skanska’s largest U.S. investor, the Vanguard Group.
WHAT: Anti-SLAPP and Preliminary Injunctions Hearing
WHEN: February 23 through February 25
WHERE: Courtroom of Judge Wipper, Washington County Court.
About the No New Animal Lab Campaign:
No New Animal Lab was born out of the University of Washington (UW) Regents’ vote to approve construction of a new underground animal lab on the University’s Seattle campus. The campaign targets UW and Skanska utilizing a diversity of tactics meant to pressure leadership and decision makers. No New Animal Lab is at the forefront of a resurgent animal rights movement, emerging from decades of political repression to rebuild grassroots networks and resist institutions and corporations that abuse animals — and to shut them down. In less than a year, the campaign has grown from an impromptu disruption at a UW Board of Regents meeting to the largest US animal liberation campaign in recent years. The campaign has included a successful lawsuit against UW, mass marches, office protests, home demonstrations, direct actions, and a recent outreach tour of 30 U.S. cities.
About the Civil Liberties Defense Center
The Civil Liberties Defense Center focuses on providing free legal knowledge to at-risk communities. By not focusing one facet of social change, we are able to provide free legal resources and expertise for the entire progressive social change movement, specifically, marginalized communities. Our mission is to make the movement for social change more effective by educating people about their rights, defending individuals from legally flawed attacks and prosecution, and confronting the erosion of our civil liberties.