The Supreme Judicial Court today dismissed a lawsuit by the town of Hanover against a union that helped finance a lawsuit against the town over construction of a new high school.
The state's highest court ruled that the New England Regional Council of Carpenters has protection under a state law against lawsuits aimed at quashing citizens' First Amendment rights to seek government action to right a wrong.
Hanover argued that because the union was not a plaintiff in the original lawsuit - which the town won, in another SJC case - it wasn't protected by the law against "strategic lawsuits against public participation" and was therefore liable to penalties for helping to delay construction of the high school and forcing the town to pay for legal help to hire the low bidder on the project despite a ruling by the state the contractor had engaged in fraud to get the contract.
The SJC, however, said that the state law isn't limited solely to people or groups who directly sign their names to lawsuits or formal requests to government agencies or the legislature.
The defendant's role in the commencement and maintenance of the action against the town, as well as its actions of providing legal counsel and advice to the taxpayers, falls within the statute's scope of protected activities. The defendant, like the taxpayers themselves, was enlisting the taxpayers in order to effect judicial review of an expenditure of town funds which had been misused. Its involvement in the litigation was likely to encourage consideration by the courts and enlist the participation of the public, here, the taxpayers, to effect that consideration. The defendant's support thus falls within the statute's definition of a "statement." ... Such support of litigation brought to seek redress against the government constitutes petitioning activity for purposes of the anti-SLAPP statute.
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