Protection of an individual's First Amendment right to free speech

Case Description

In July 2008, the ACLU of Minnesota filed an amicus curiae brief in defense of James Stengrim's First Amendment right to free speech after Stengrim was sued by the Middle Snake Tamarac Rivers Watershed District, a local government entity, for expressing an opinion critical of the District's flood control plans.

Stengrim and other land owners opposing the flood control project filed suit against the District in 2002. At that time, a settlement agreement was reached and one provision of it forbade the land owners from challenging the project again. Consistent with the agreement, Stengrim has not filed a legal challenge since, but remains an outspoken critic of the District's handling of the project. When he was sued for violating the settlement agreement, he tried to use Minnesota's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) Act which allows defendants to seek the dismissal of any civil suit that seeks to silence lawful speech or action aimed at government action but a Minnesota district court refused to apply the law at all.

In February 2009, Stengrim was vindicated when the Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the district court decision, which had held that the anti-SLAPP law did not apply in the Stengrim case. The ACLU's amicus brief argued that the anti-SLAPP law should protect Stengrim and that one cannot sign away his or her First Amendment rights.

On June 30, 2010, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed the Minnesota Court of Appeals, holding that the district court had properly denied Stengrim's motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP statute.


John Borger, Faegre Baker Daniels LLP

Date filed


Minnesota Supreme Court