If you have been following my blog, you know that Texas’s anti-slapp statute—the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA)—frequently applies to commercial litigation claims. McDonald Oilfield Operations, LLC v. 3B Inspection, LLC, No. 01-18-00118-CV, 2018 WL 6377432 (Tex. App.—Houston [1st Dist.] Dec. 6, 2018, no pet. h.) is another example of the use of the TCPA as a defense to a commercial litigation suit. In McDonald Oilfield Operations, plaintiff 3B Inspection brought claims a defamation, business disparagement, and tortious interference with contract after defendant McDonald Oilfield Operations, a competitor in the pipeline monitoring business, allegedly told one of 3B’s customers that 3B was “not a real company” and that McDonald Oilfield had suspended some 3B’s employees’ qualifications. (Three of 3B’s employees had worked for McDonald Oilfield as independent contractors and had received their credentials through McDonald Oilfield. McDonald Oilfield asserted claims that these employees had misappropriated trade secrets and stolen company property.)
In response to 3B’s claims, McDonald Oilfield filed a motion to dismiss under the TCPA. Specifically, McDonald Oilfield asserted that 3B’s claims interfered with its free speech rights under the TCPA.
Houston’s First Court of Appeals agreed. McDonald Oilfield’s statements about qualifications were on a matter of public concern—and thus involved free speech—because they concerned the qualifications and sponsorship of the individual employees to perform certain tasks that could impact environmental, health, safety, and economic concerns associated with noxious and flammable chemicals transported through pipelines. Furthermore, McDonald Oilfield’s statements on 3B not being a real company were statements concerning a matter of public concern as they related to “a good, product, or service in the marketplace.” Therefore, the TCPA applied. Since 3B failed to offer the required prima facie evidence of the specific elements of its claims, the Court reversed the trial court’s denial of the McDonald’s Oilfield’s motion to dismiss.