CalCoastNews attorneys file anti-SLAPP motion in libel suit over hazardous waste story
September 16, 2013
Attorneys for CalCoastNews filed a motion Friday to dismiss a libel suit brought by the head of a hazardous waste management service in Arroyo Grande. Charles Tenborg sued CalCoastNews chief Karen Velie and reporter Daniel Blackburn for publishing an article about irregularities in the transportation of hazardous wastes in San Luis Obispo County.
The story, “Hazardous waste chief skirts law,” reported, among other things, that Eco Solutions, the company that Tenborg heads, was not licensed to carry hazardous wastes. The story included information gathered from government documents and interviews with about a dozen persons involved in the disposal of hazardous waste in the county.
Tenborg sued, saying that the article included information that was not correct and deliberate misstatements damaging to his reputation.
CalCoastNews’ attorneys Thomas R. Burke, Jeanne M. Sheahan and Bruce E.H. Johnson of the Davis Wright Tremaine law firm filed their anti-SLAPP motion under a California law designed to prevent people from using lawsuits to stifle discussion and coverage of public issues.
“CalCoastNews’ reporting is absolutely privileged as a matter of law under the Civil Code because it accurately reported on the unlawful transportation of hazardous waste by Eco Solutions, Plaintiff’s company,” the motion says.
Tenborg’s suit was an attempt to both silence and punish CalCoastNews, the motion says.
The story, published on the CalCoastNews website in Nov. 2011, laid out problems with hazardous waste transportation following more than a year of investigation that included a review of state law on hazardous waste, searches through public records from both the state of California as well as San Luis Obispo city and county. Their investigation included interviews with Tenborg, William Worrell, the head of the Integrated Waste Management Authority, ECO Solutions employees and city and county employees.
The chief allegation in Tenborg’s libel claim was that CalCoastNews reported that his company was not properly licensed to haul the waste. That statement is protected as it was discovered to be information made public in the course of an agency meeting, the motion says. Velie received a copy of the notes from that meeting of the city of San Luis Obispo’s Stormwater Management team.
A hearing on the motion is set for Oct. 16.
This is the second defamation case that CalCoastNews or an affiliate has had to face in the past year. Dee Torres, director of homeless services for Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO), lost her slander suit against Mike Brennler, a private investigator who had been working with CalCoastNews on news articles about abuses of the homeless.
Brennler’s attorney Stew Jenkins filed an anti-SLAPP motion and Superior Court Judge Barry LaBarbera dismissed her suit on Sept. 6. Judge LaBarbera concluded that Torres was a public figure involved in a matter of public interest, the treatment of homeless persons in San Luis Obispo County. The judge concluded that because Torres was not likely to prevail in her suit, that the case should be dismissed.