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A vegan farm animal sanctuary has called an unfavorable court ruling in a defamation case 'unjust and erroneous'.
Renee King-Sonnen founded the Rowdy Girl Sanctuary [RGS], a non-profit organization, with her husband Tommy Sonnen in 2015.
The pair came under fire from people who called the sanctuary a 'scam' and 'pyramid scheme' on a Facebook a page called 'The Real Rowdy Girl Revealed'. Questions were reportedly asked about finances and animal care on the page.
King-Sonnen and Sonnen filed a lawsuit against a number of individual making these claims in March of this year, claiming these individuals were defaming them.
King-Sonnen said she was 'left with no choice' but to take legal action.
She said efforts were made to reach out and educate individuals posting defamatory remarks to encourage them to actually review the facts, but claims that when those efforts failed, legal action was the only option.
She added: "I was so surprised that these self-proclaimed animal rights activists and vegans/vegetarians would spend so much of their time trying to shut down a vegan farm animal sanctuary that is trying to educate the public about the plight of farmed animals, and not focus their ire on actual animal abusers and the factory farming system that seeks to torture farm animals."
The lawsuit filed was to seek damages resulting from the remarks. "They were hurting our donations and our character.
"They were defaming our character, our good name," said King-Sonnen.
But the District Court of Harris County, Texas ruled on a motion filed by three defendants who sought dismissal of the action claiming it sought to suppress First Amendment free speech.
The court ruled the action should be dismissed and that RGS, King-Sonnen and Sonnen should pay the three defendants attorney's fees, costs and sanctions totaling $159,000.
The ruling was made under the anti-SLAPP [Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation] statute - which is designed to stop frivolous lawsuits.
King-Sonnen said: "I am afraid the court gave its blessing to those who wish to assault us with more harmful, defamatory statements in their campaign to tear down an organization trying to bring justice to farm animals."
Drew L. Alexis, an attorney and member of RGS' board, added: "This ruling is unjust and erroneous. Unfortunately, in our legal system, sometimes judges make bad rulings."
One defendant's lawyer said the case was meant to have a 'chilling' effect.
This defendant - Dr. Sujatha Ramakrishna, a child psychiatrist from Dallas - was accused of posting one comment on the Facebook page that said: "have an activist friend who says she knew from the very beginning that RGS was a scam.
"As far as I know, she has never even heard of the RRGR Facebook page."
Ramakrishna’s lawyer, Adam Milasincic, questioned the intent of the case - claiming it was meant to have a 'chilling effect', and that it was about free speech.
He added: "That’s why so many people were sued, and like in my client’s case, (from) a single post (to) send a message to other critics that you don’t want to cross us."
RGS is now considering an appeal.
King-Sonnen said: "We may appeal as our lawyers have told us this ruling makes no sense.
"At the same time, I want to put this matter behind us and move forward with the work that we are doing.
"I know in the end, whether justice is had in the court or not, we are going to continue to advance our mission to protect farm animals from cruelty.
"And I know that the truth is on our side, and not on the side of those spewing hate on social media."
Maria is a former magazine editor and newspaper reporter. She has specialized in writing content for the plant-based sector for several years, as well as reporting on agriculture, politics and regional news. You can follow her on Twitter @MariaChiorando and Instagram @mariachiorando.
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