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April 24, 2013

Court overturns some rulings against water well owners

Appeals court lets other claims filed against Weatherford couple continue

By CHRISTIN COYNE

Steven Lipsky won part of his appeal to the Texas Second Court of Appeals Tuesday when the appellate court ordered some of the civil charges from Range Resources be dismissed. 

However, the company can pursue claims of defamation and business disparagement in Parker County district court against Lipsky, the appeals court ruled.

Steven and Shyla Lipsky filed a suit against Range Resources in June 2011, alleging nearby gas drilling by the company contaminated their water well and caused the water to become flammable, charges Range denied.

Range filed a countersuit, alleging the Lipskys, along with consultant Alisa Rich, conspired to defame the company.

In January 2012, then-43rd District Judge Trey Loftin dismissed the Lipskys’ case against Range, finding that the lawsuit should have been filed in a Travis County district court under the Texas Natural Resources Code because the issue had gone before the Texas Railroad Commission.

The Lipskys and Rich attempted to have the claims against them dismissed under Texas anti-SLAPP law that seeks to prevent “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” and protect First Amendment rights for speakers who may be frivously sued to inhibit their speech.

Loftin denied their motion, finding in a February 2012 order that Steven Lipsky working with Rich made a “deceptive” video calculated to alarm the public.

However, the three-judge panel found in a 42-page opinion released Tuesday that “the trial court clearly abused its discretion” by denying Alisa Rich’s and Shyla Lipsky’s motions to dismiss all of Ranges claims against them and ordered the trial court to dismiss the claims.

The appellate judges found no evidence that Rich agreed with the Lipskys to publicly blame Range for the well contamination.

The judges also stated that Range did not point out, nor could they locate, any evidence showing Shyla Lipsky published any statements, defamatory or otherwise, concerning Range.

The appellate court found that “the trial court clearly abused its discretion” by denying Lipsky’s motion to dismiss Range’s civil conspiracy and aiding and abetting claims against him under the anti-SLAPP law and ordered that those claims against Lipsky be dismissed.

The appellate court left pending Range’s claims of defamation and business disparagement against Steven Lipsky. 

Messages left for attorneys for the Lipskys and Range were not returned Tuesday afternoon.

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