DECOM SLAPPs

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Date: 1988

Region: North America

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion

Medium: Public Art


Confronting Bodies: Bunker Resource Recycling and Reclamation, Inc.--DECOM

Confronted Bodies: Jacqueline A. Sommer and Linda Tanner

Dates of Action: February,1988

Location: Missouri

Description of Artwork: Jacqueline A. Sommer and Linda Tanner two private citizens of Missouri wrote letters to their local papers which criticized "the operation of an infectious waste incinerator by Bunker Resource, Recycling and Reclamation, Inc.--a subsidiary of the Canadian firm DECOM Medical Waste Systems, Inc. Sommer's letter was published in the Quad County Journal. Tanner's letter was never published, but the editor had given it to the mayor, who had an economic interest in success of the plant.

The Incident: DECOM responded by filing SLAPPs suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) against the two women. In cases such as this "individuals and community groups across the United States are being sued for exercising their constitutional 'right of petition.' These suits, known as "SLAPPs," (for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation), are being brought by corporations, real estate developers, government officials, and others against who oppose them on issues of public concern--usually relating to the environment or development, but also encompassing such issues as government spending, corruption, and prison construction. SLAPP targets have been sued for engaging in a wide variety of speech and expression activities: writing a letter to the editor, calling a public official, conducting a public campaign, speaking at a town meeting, testifying before Congress or state legislatures, and filing public-interest lawsuits.

Results of Incident: In addition to the suit, (DECOM) officials led a smear campaign against Tanner which resulted in the loss of her job as a medical technician at a local hospital. The board of the hospital was told that Tanner was bringing live AIDS viruses into the hospital for examination. She was fired without a hearing, despite support from hospital administrators, who said claims about her were absurd. DECOM's suits were unsuccessful and both women countersued (SLAPP-back). In May (1991) a jury awarded Linda Tanner $86 million in damages... The award included a $10 million personal judgment against the owner of the company for the role he played in having Tanner fired

Source: The Fund For Free Expression , N.Y.C.,Vol. 1 Issue 6 Pg. 1-7