COMMUNITIES FOR A BETTER ENVIRONMENT NEWS RELEASE For Immediate Release: Feb. 1, 1999 For more information contact: Denny Larson, Richard Drury (415) 243-8373 FEDERAL JUDGE THROWS OUT TOSCO SLAPP SUIT AGAINST CBE ENVIRONMENTALISTS VINDICATED Today Federal District Judge Dickran Tevrizian announced that he is tossing out a lawsuit filed by oil giant Tosco Corporation against California environmental health and justice group, Communities for a Better Environment (CBE). The court ruled on CBE’s motion to dismiss against Tosco, in which CBE claimed that Tosco’s lawsuit was a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). SLAPP suits are intended to tie-up small non-profit organizations like CBE in frivolous litigation for years to divert their attention away from their real work of cleaning up the environment. Tosco is one of the largest corporations in the nation ? 111 on the Fortune 500 list, and the largest independent oil refiner in the nation. Tosco’s suit was brought after CBE sued the oil company in San Francisco for numerous environmental violations. The court dismissed Tosco’s lawsuit, ruling that the case had no business being in federal court at all. CBE successfully argued that Tosco is a California Corporation, and that all of the claims involved concerned only state, not federal issues. Tosco’s SLAPP suit contended that CBE’s efforts to inform the public of the risks to the state’s groundwater relating to the gasoline additive MTBE constituted defamation. This ruling vindicates CBE’s contention that that the only reason Tosco filed its SLAPP suit in federal court was due to forum-shopping, stated CBE Legal Director Richard Drury. If Tosco had filed the case in state court, the company would have been subject to the state’s strict Anti-SLAPP law, which is designed to protect citizen groups from precisely such abusive tactics, said Drury. Under California’s Anti-SLAPP law, citizen groups can get SLAPP suits thrown out early, and can also recover their costs and fees from the corporation. Because of the Anti-SLAPP law, we believe that it is highly unlikely that Tosco will re-file this case in state court, said Drury. CBE is currently suing Tosco and other oil companies in state court in San Francisco in an attempt to force the companies to clean-up MTBE contamination throughout the state. Tosco, and other California oil companies starting putting the toxic chemical MTBE into gasoline in the early 1990’s, allegedly to make cleaner burning gasoline. However, the suit alleges that the oil companies were aware at the time that MTBE leaks out of underground gas tanks and into groundwater. In addition to the MTBE lawsuit, CBE has sued Tosco several other times over the past two years for violating federal and state environmental laws, including a federal court suit forcing Tosco to cut its illegal discharge of toxic selenium into San Francisco Bay. SLAPP suits are becoming increasingly common ? examples include the beef industry suing Oprah Winfrey, the lettuce growers suing Ceasar Chavez, and the apple growers suing the Natural Resources Defense Council, just to name a few. Today Tosco joins the list of companies that have learned that it doesn’t pay to harass and intimidate public interest groups with frivolous lawsuits, said Denny Larson of CBE. CBE is a 20-year-old environmental health and justice organization with 20,000 members in California. The group combines scientists, attorneys and community organizers to empower communities impacted by toxic pollution to win clean ups and community oversight rights. CBE has offices in San Francisco, Pittsburg, Los Angeles, and Huntington Park. CBE was represented by the San Francisco Anti-SLAPP law firm, Altshuler, Berzon, Nussbaum, Berzon & Rubin.
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