Minnesota Civil Liberties Union Wins Dismissal of Lawsuit Against Trailer Park Activist

Affiliate: ACLU of Minnesota
October 7, 1999 12:00 am

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MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Civil Liberties Union today announced the dismissal of a lawsuit against a woman seeking to improve conditions in the mobile home park where she lived.

The lawsuit was filed in late June by Kjellberg’s Inc., the owners of the park, against resident Jean Weisbrich and All Parks Alliance for Change, a local community group in Monticello. The owners claimed that Weisbrich made defamatory statements about Kjellberg’s and encouraged tenants to break their leases.

Acting on behalf of Weisbrich, the MCLU filed a counterclaim against Kjellberg’s for violating the Minnesota law that protects free speech in manufactured home parks. The counterclaim also alleged that a Kjellberg employee’s intimidation prevented Weisbrich from distributing public health notices about water quality.

The MCLU next filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, in part because some of the statements attributed to Weisbrich (she allegedly called a park manager “bloodthirsty”) were hyperbole and could not be considered defamatory.

“We took on this case because we felt that the lawsuit was motivated by a desire to intimidate Weisbrich, APAC and other concerned park residents into giving up their right to free speech, freedom of association, and their right to petition government,” said MCLU Executive Director Charles Samuelson.

“Our concern was that, not only would the lawsuit punish our client for constitutionally protected speech, but it would also have a chilling effect on the speech of other residents wishing to improve park conditions,” he added.

The MCLU argued that Kjellberg’s actions therefore constituted a SLAPP lawsuit (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) which should be dismissed under Minnesota’s anti-SLAPP law.

Shortly after the MCLU filed its motion, Kjellberg’s agreed to dismiss its lawsuit with prejudice on the condition that Weisbrich dismiss her counterclaims.

According to Weisbrich, she and the community group met regularly to discuss their mutual concerns, including water quality issues and suspected criminal activity going on in the park. Weisbrich began to write letters to state representatives and other government officials setting forth her concerns about park conditions. She also began to talk with other residents about ways they could address those concerns.

In late May, at the request of a representative from the State Department of Health, Weisbrich distributed public health notices regarding water in one of the park’s three wells in which the state detected a harmful bacteria. The notices instructed residents to boil their water before using it for drinking or cooking.

While Weisbrich distributed the notices, she spoke with residents about her various concerns about the park, and gave residents information about avenues they could pursue (including letters to the Attorney General and other government officials) to get their concerns addressed.

Weisbrich has continued to attend meetings of the All Parks Alliance and recently was elected chairperson for a newly formed resident association.

Todd Noteboom, a lawyer with the Minneapolis law firm Leonard, Street and Deinard, acted as a volunteer attorney in the case for the MCLU.

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