The IBJ recently reported on the most recent turn of events in the ongoing dispute over Browning Investment’s planned Broad Ripple development. According to the IBJ,
The developer of a $30 million apartment-and-retail project in Broad Ripple wants the development’s most vocal opponents to pay nearly $1 million in damages related to construction delays.
Browning Investments Inc. is asking that Good Earth Natural Foods and resident Patrick Skowronek pay the money for appealing the Metropolitan Development Commission’s decision to award Browning zoning variances to proceed with the project.
This is a perfect example of a SLAPP–a strategic lawsuit against public participation.
The purpose of a SLAPP isn’t to win, or even to litigate a legitimate dispute. It is a strategy sometimes used by large corporations or developers in order to intimidate people who have the chutzpah to oppose them, a bullying tactic to silence critics by threatening them with the very substantial costs of defending against a lawsuit that the big guys can easily afford, but citizen-protestors cannot. The goal is to squeeze the people criticizing the development until they are exhausted, or out of money, or both, and abandon their opposition.
As a bonus, SLAPP suits also “send a message” that intimidates other people who might be tempted to join the opposition.
The zoning appeals process is there for a reason, and people are entitled to use it. Costs attributable to a delay while a dispute is mediated or litigated should be–and are– an anticipated cost of doing business.
Suing people who have pissed you off by daring to disagree with your business plan is–excuse the language–a dick tactic.