VANCOUVER, B.C. (CN) – A suburban man whose land-use application was put on hold, and who followed up with a pro se SLAPP lawsuit demanding $13 million from neighbors and a small environmental group who opposed it, will have to pay $32,000 to the people he sued, a British Columbia Supreme Court justice ruled.
Robin Scory’s dispute began over a land-use application seeking to convert his property in suburban Langley into farmland. When neighbors and the Glen Valley Watersheds Society opposed the application, Scory ramped up the fight into a $13 million defamation claim against them.
But a provincial Supreme Court justice this week awarded costs to the defendants, whom Scory had sued pro se.
In her ruling, the justice mentioned the perils of filing a SLAPP lawsuit without “the benefit of legal advice.”
Langley is southeast of Vancouver, near the U.S. border.
Justice Catherine Bruce awarded costs against claimant Scory, in favor of the respondents who opposed his plan to dump 750,000 cubic meters of soil near ecologically sensitive creeks.
In October 2009, Scory applied to the Township of Langley for a permit to dump soil on his land near respondent Sian Krannitz’s property. Krannitz was a member of the Glen Valley Watersheds Society, which joined her in public opposition to Scory.
The township put the permit application on hold, seeking more information about environmental impacts.
Justice Bruce’s ruling states that the township’s decision had nothing to do with public opposition to the application.
But that didn’t stop Scory from filing a $13 million defamation claim against Krannitz, the Watersheds Society and another resident, Jack DeWitte.
Filing pro se, Scory “made serious allegations against Ms. Krannitz, including an allegation that she made unfounded, false, unverified and unsubstantiated statements about his permit application to local residents for the purpose of gathering signatures on a petition opposing the application and for the purpose of intentionally harming the claimant. The claimant also alleged that Ms. Krannitz organized public meetings to spread false information about his permit application,” the Hon. Madam Justice Catherine Bruce wrote for the court.
Despite warnings from the respondents’ lawyer that the lawsuit had no basis and was doomed to fail, Scory pressed on with the case and repeatedly failed to meet routine disclosure requests, Justice Bruce found.
The judge found Scory’s claims baseless and dismissed the lawsuit in May.
“There was no evidence that the respondents had acted maliciously for the purpose of harming the claimant,” Bruce wrote. “While the respondents expressed opposition to the permit application, I found that Ms. Krannitz and the GVWS were merely exercising their right of free speech to voice objections to the proposal. There was nothing unlawful about their conduct.”
Despite its frivolity, the so-called SLAPP lawsuit – a strategic lawsuit against public participation – effectively ended Krannitz’s participation in environmental advocacy work and nearly caused the watershed society to fold.
The respondents offered to settle with Scory for nominal amounts, but he refused, even though he had a letter from the Township of Langley, which he failed to disclose, and which undermined the basis of his lawsuit, Justice Bruce wrote.
“Lastly, the claimant’s lawsuit achieved one of the recognized purposes of SLAPP litigation,” Bruce wrote. “It effectively silenced the respondents’ public opposition to the claimant’s permit application. For these reasons, I find that whether or not one characterizes the claimant’s lawsuit as a SLAPP action, the circumstances of this case illustrate conduct by a claimant that is sufficiently reprehensible to warrant an order for special costs. This is not a case where the lawsuit has little merit; there was absolutely no merit to the action and no evidence led to support the serious allegations of misconduct by the respondents.”
Bruce awarded Krannitz special costs and more than $32,000, but denied respondents’ request for double costs, “a penalty reserved for the most reprehensible behaviour by a litigant.”
“In the circumstances of this case, an award of special costs is a sufficient deterrent to litigation designed to silence public participation in government decision-making,” the ruling states. “In this regard, it is significant that the claimant is self-represented and did not pursue this litigation with the benefit of legal advice.”