SLAPP lawsuit dropped against North Fork activist
A Texas oil and gas company that filed a defamation lawsuit against a Paonia activist over an online comment he made to a Glenwood Springs Post Independent article had its case dismissed in Delta County last week.
The SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) came after a comment left on the Post Independent’s website by Peter Kolbenschlag, a 20-year North Fork Valley resident, in response to the publication’s 2016 article, “Divide lease decision likely to land in court.”
According to a Motion for Summary Judgment issued by the Delta County District Court, the plaintiff, SG Interests I Ltd. and its libel claim against defendant Peter Kolbenschlag was dismissed in its entirety, “on the grounds that the statement attributed to the defendant was substantially true.”
After the article’s Nov. 28, 2016, publication date, Kolbenschlag wrote in the comments section the following day, “While SGI alleges ‘collusion’ let us recall that it, SGI was actually fined for colluding (with Gunnison Energy Corporation) to rig bid prices and rip off American taxpayers. Yes, these two companies owned by billionaires thought it appropriate to pad their portfolios at the expense of you and I and every other hard-working American.”
The other portion of Kolbenschlag’s comment included quotes from High Country Citizens Alliance Public Lands Director Matt Reed, as well as a link to the United States Justice Department’ subsequent statement regarding SGI and GEC’s previous actions.
“There isn’t a different set of law that applies to communications over the Internet. It is the same law there as anywhere else,” Kolbenschlag’s attorney Steve Zansberg, who also represents media organizations in Colorado, said. “The reason this case was thrown out is because what Mr. Kolbenschlag said was substantially true.”
Kolbenschlag pointed out in the comment he was sued for, that a United States Justice Department settlement in 2012 mandated that Gunnison Energy Corp. and SG Interests pay a total of $550,000, “for antitrust and False Claims Act violations.”
According to last week’s judgment, the Delta County Court found that, “In its pleading, SGI specifically alleged not only that the defendant’s statement was false, but that people reading the comment would ‘think significantly less favorably about SGI than they would if they knew the true facts.’”
A press release issued on Feb. 15, 2012, by the Department of Justice’s Office of Public Affairs stated, “In 2005, GEC and SGI entered into a written agreement under which they agreed that only SGI would bid at the auctions and then assign an interest in the acquired leases to GEC.”
The same 2012 press release also confirmed, “As a result of the agreement between GEC and SGI, the United States received less revenue from the sale of the four leases than it would have had SGI and GEC competed at the auctions.”
“After a lot of public advocacy work, I knew right away that it was a SLAPP action. That they were suing me because I am an effective activist,” Kolbenschlag said. “I would not knowingly or willingly post anything that’s not true or factual, but I don’t pull punches. If I’m concerned or critical of something I’m happy to express that opinion as is my right under the First Amendment, and in this case the judge found that what I posted was in fact substantially true.”
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