The District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled in favor of pro-life sidewalk counselor, Larry Cirignano, and his two companions, Ruby Nicdao and Jonathan Darnel, on Thursday in a lawsuit filed by Two Rivers Public Charter School against them in December 2015.
Pro-Life Counselors Favored By Court
Liberty Counsel, a legal organization founded in 1999 to uphold religious freedom, announced on social media the unanimous decision (3-0) of the District of Columbia Court of Appeals in favor of Cirignano. The Court of Appeals, whose ruling reversed the trial court's decision, ordered the dismissal of the lawsuit, "Nicdao et al v Two Rivers Pub School." Therapist News said the court reasoned the school would not succeed on the merits of its claim because it had no standing to bring the lawsuit.
"We therefore hold that the trial court erred in holding that Two Rivers had demonstrated it was likely to succeed on the merits of its private nuisance and conspiracy to create a private nuisance claims in order to overcome the AntiSLAPP special motion to dismiss," the Court of Appeals said in the ruling.
"Because the private nuisance claim is legally insufficient...because we hold the private nuisance claim cannot stand, Two Rivers cannot demonstrate a likelihood of success on civil conspiracy to
create a private nuisance, which requires an underlying tort," the court continued.
Liberty Counsel explained that Cirignano was peacefully standing on the sidewalk near the school and the area where Planned Parenthood's facility is situated but was sued by the school for creating a nuisance. Cirignano then filed a countersuit with SLAPP against the school. WND elaborated that the school shares an alley with Planned Parenthood, which at that time was being constructed between Two Rivers' two buildings.
Free Speech Wins
According to the ruling, Darnel sent the school an email on November 1, 2015 asking for action from the school to prevent the abortion facility from opening. Darnel also said in the email that more protests will be held if the school will be passive on the matter. Darnel and two companions held an earlier protest on August 27, 2015.
Fifteen days later, Darnel brought three companions and protested on the sidewalk holding graphic signs on abortion and allegedly followed students onto school property forcing brochures on their hands. It was only on November 23 when Cirignano and Nicdao joined the protest. The group similarly held graphic signs and allegedly shouted at parents and students.
Two Rivers claimed that they had to protect the children from the group at that time since they felt unsafe and threatened. The group protested one last time on December 7, 2015 before the school filed the lawsuit several days after. On their last day of protest, Darnel allegedly followed one student and parent and a group of students who he forced leaflets into.
With the case dismissed, Liberty Counsel said they will be assessing next the damages for the school's unlawful lawsuit "intended to thwart the First Amendment right to free speech." Liberty Counsel Founder and Chairman Mat Staver, in an interview with the Christian Headlines, praised the court's decision and called it a "victory for free speech," which has taken several years to be attained. Staver raised that the delay would still significantly affect generations.
Staver emphasized that the victory for free speech is for everyone. He also said that it is a victory that creates awareness of an abortion facility beside a public school, which is "clearly in the public interest." He said that Two Rivers made a "costly decision" when it avoided the First Amendment.
"Free speech cannot be brushed aside by intimidation or litigation tactics," Staver said.