Defamation Suit Against Snake River Alliance Dismissed
January 30, 2009
In a January 26 decision, the Fourth Judicial Court of Idaho dismissed the lawsuit brought against the Snake River Alliance by nuclear power company Alternate Energy Holdings, Inc. (AEHI).
In August 2008, AEHI filed its lawsuit claiming that the Executive Director of the Snake River Alliance, Andrea Shipley, made defamatory comments in an August 11 interview for local television. During the discussion about AEHI's finances, Shipley commented, "regardless of how you feel about nuclear energy, these guys (AEHI) are scamming Idahoans."
The Snake River Alliance is a Boise-based group that advocates for the cleanup of radiation contamination left over from the Cold-War era at the Idaho National Laboratory, protection of the Snake River aquifer, and clean energy alternatives to nuclear and fossil fuels.
Shipley's comments referred to the situation regarding AEHI's proposed construction of a 1,600-megawatt nuclear reactor in Elmore County, Idaho. AEHI's Chief Executive Officer, Don Gillispie, had claimed that they would sell power to Idaho utilities, but no companies had shown any interest. Shipley questioned whether the company would raise the necessary funds to pay for the reactor. Shipley said, "In his short time in Idaho, Mr. Gillispie has built what appears to me to be a record of misrepresenting the environmental toll his nuclear reactor scheme would take on Idaho. He has claimed multiple times that he is lining up the financing for his project, yet it has not materialized. First he tried to sell his plant in Owyhee County.... Then Gillispie pulled up stakes and took his nomad nuclear plant up the Snake River to Elmore County, where the Planning and Zoning Commission rightly determined the project was a blatant violation of the county's Comprehensive Plan."
AEHI filed the lawsuit claiming that Shipley's comments were an effort to drive down AEHI stock. The lawsuit asked that the Snake River Alliance retract the statements, pay monetary damages, and that measures be taken by the court to prohibit further disparaging statements from being made. Gillispie said, "Someone has to hold them accountable. They have used defamation tactics since the day we announced this plant and the media has obliged them by spreading their fabrications."
The Snake River Alliance defended Shipley and her First Amendment right to free speech, saying that the statements were opinion, not fact. In court documents, AEHI agreed, saying it did not dispute that Shipley's comments were not defamatory, but were just expressions of her opinion of an issue of public concern. The court noted, before dismissing the case, that "permitting this punitively designed action to proceed would have a chilling effect on public discourse over AEHI's controversial project."
Shipley says her opinions have not changed, and that AEHI still needs to be held accountable for its actions. Shipley said, "The Snake River Alliance is Idaho's nuclear watchdog; it's our job to shed light on projects like this. All we did was speak out against the misrepresentations Gillispie and other AEHI representatives have continued to make about this horrible idea. We won't be deterred by AEHI's retaliatory tactics."