Texas Developer Who Used Eminent Domain to Acquire Property for Himself Sues Journalist Carla Main and lawprof Richard Epstein for Libel:

Back in 2006, I wrote two posts about Western Seafood Co. v. City of Freeport, a potentially important post-Kelo eminent domain case decided by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals (see here and here). The case became the subject of an excellent book by legal journalist Carla Main, who documented how the condemnation of the property was likely instigated by H. Walker Royall, the Texas oil millionaire who sought to acquire the land in order to build a luxury marina.

Now Royall is suing Main for libel, and also suing University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein because Epstein wrote a laudatory blurb for the book. Tim Sandefur has the details and additional links here. As Tim points out, it is unlikely that Royall will win his suit because he is clearly a "public figure" under New York Times v. Sullivan, and a public figure cannot prevail on a libel claim unless he proves both that the statements about him were untrue and that the the defendants knew it or acted with "reckless" disregard for the truth.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: Richard Epstein and I have worked together on some other eminent domain issues, though not on this case. I also have done a variety of eminent domain-related pro bono work for the Institute for Justice, which is representing Epstein and Main.

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Journalist Carla Main Responds to Developer Who is Suing Her Claiming that She Defamed Him in Book Chronicling His Effort to Acquire Property Through Eminent Domain:

A few weeks ago, I blogged about a lawsuit in which Texas developer H. Walker Royall is suing legal journalist Carla Main for alleged defamation. Royall had previously acquired property through the use of eminent domain by the city of Freeport, Texas, so that he could in turn use it to build a luxury marina. Main wrote a compelling book about the case, and now Royall is suing her for defamation because she described his role in the case in an unflattering light. Even more absurdly, Royall is also suing University of Chicago law professor Richard Epstein for writing a favorable blurb for the book.

In this recent op ed coauthored with her publisher, Roger Kimball, Main gives her view of the case and the threat it poses to property rights and freedom of speech.

It is highly unlikely that Royall will actually win this case. However, such lawsuits can still serve to stifle criticism of questionable takings by imposing steep litigation costs on critics. Main and Epstein are fortunate to have free representation from the Institute for Justice, the libertarian public interest law firm that has litigated numerous property rights cases, including Kelo v. City of New London. Most other eminent domain critics and threatened property owners are not so fortunate.

CONFLICT OF INTEREST WATCH: Richard Epstein and I have worked together on various eminent domain issues, though not on this case. I also have done a variety of eminent domain-related pro bono work for the Institute for Justice, which is representing Epstein and Main.

UPDATE: I accidentally got Royall's first name wrong in the first version of this post. The mistake has now been corrected.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Prof. Richard Epstein Dismissed from Book-Blurb Libel Case, on Jurisdictional Grounds:
  2. Journalist Carla Main Responds to Developer Who is Suing Her Claiming that She Defamed Him in Book Chronicling His Effort to Acquire Property Through Eminent Domain:
  3. Texas Developer Who Used Eminent Domain to Acquire Property for Himself Sues Journalist Carla Main and lawprof Richard Epstein for Libel:
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Prof. Richard Epstein Dismissed from Book-Blurb Libel Case, on Jurisdictional Grounds:

According to the Institute for Justice (also reported in this Dallas Observer blog (Robert Wilonsky):

A Dallas judge yesterday ordered that nationally renowned law professor Richard Epstein be dismissed from a defamation lawsuit brought by Dallas developer H. Walker Royall. In that lawsuit, Royall claimed that Epstein defamed him merely by writing a blurb on the back cover of Bulldozed: “Kelo,” Eminent Domain, and the American Lust for Land. Carla Main, the author of Bulldozed, and Encounter Books, the book’s publisher, remain targets of Royall’s lawsuit.

Bulldozed tells the story of eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Texas, and ties that story to the larger issue of eminent domain abuse in America after the U.S. Supreme Court’s infamous decision in Kelo v. City of New London. Royall was a key player in the Freeport debacle, having signed an agreement with the city of Freeport whereby the city would take land owned by a local seafood business through eminent domain and transfer it to Royall’s company for a luxury marina development project. During that dispute, Royall sued the targets of the takings, the Gore family, over statements they made about Royall on a website opposing the taking. When Carla Main wrote a book about eminent domain abuse in Freeport, Royall sued her, too, along with her publisher. When Epstein contributed a blurb to the back cover, Royall sued him. Royall also sued a local newspaper that ran a review of Bulldozed and the writer who wrote the review.

Epstein is now out of the lawsuit. Dallas Judge Carlos Cortez ordered Epstein’s dismissal after Royall failed to show that the Texas court had jurisdiction over the Illinois resident, who has not been to Texas in more than 13 years.

Epstein is a professor at the University of Chicago Law School and New York University School of Law. Ironically, he is the author of a prominent book on eminent domain, as well as a torts casebook that is used in law schools across the United States.... [A]lthough Epstein has now been dismissed, Main and Encounter remain as defendants....

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