Appellate Court of Illinois Refuses NEIU’s Use of the ICPA
CHICAGO, Illinois (September 16, 2013) – Writing that the university “does not refute any essential element” of Capeheart’s claims, the Appellate Court of Illinois First Judicial District has overturned Judge Kogan’s June 2012 ruling. That decision ruled that Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) and its former VP, Melvin Terrell, had immunity to publicly slander Professor Loretta Capeheart, because of the Illinois Citizens Participation Act (ICPA). The ICPA was enacted to protect individual citizens from being sued by powerful interests who intend to use the courts to prevent these citizens from engaging in public discourse and actions that are in disagreement with these interests.
In 2008, Professor Capeheart filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming defamation and suppression of her freedom of speech by NEIU President Sharon Hahs, former Provost Larry Frank, and former VP Melvin Terrell. In her claim, Dr. Capeheart argued that VP Terrell had slandered her in a public NEIU meeting by falsely accusing her of having had stalking charges filed against her by a student. Capeheart also claimed that NEIU officials had slandered and retaliated against her as a way to silence her.
In a perversion of the Illinois Citizens Protection Act, NEIU’s attorney Pete Land claimed that Professor Capeheart is equivalent to a powerful interest who somehow prevented VP Melvin Terrell and “government from participating in government,” by defending herself from slander. The university further claimed that Professor Capeheart must pay them over $88,000 in costs and fees. This was clearly a perversion of the ICPA. The Appeals court wrote “the plaintiff’s suit does not appear to be intended to prevent Terrell from participating in government or to interfere with his rights to petition for free speech.” The court also noted that Capeheart is not seeking the “millions as in the classic SLAPP scenario”. The case now returns to the lower court.
We hope that the sponsors of that legislation, Senator John Cullerton and Representative Jack Franks, along with all others who support a democratic Illinois will join us in celebration. We further hope that the ICPA sponsors and others will join us in condemning the use of this legislation in attempts to silence and punish citizens of Illinois, like Dr. Capeheart.
Prof. Capeheart’s case has gained national attention. Professor Steve Macek’s September 2012 article about Capeheart appeared in Z Magazine. The Nation’s sports editor Dave Zirin has also written about this case. The faculty union at Rutgers University passed a resolution supporting Professor Capeheart and approved financial assistance to cover her legal expenses; the faculty senates at the University of Texas-Austin and Harper College have also approved resolutions in her support. Among those signing petitions in support of Dr. Capeheart are: Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jesse Sharkey, Vice President, Chicago Teachers Union, Bill Ayers, Distinguished Professor (retired) University of Illinois at Chicago.
For more information about this case, please consult the website of the Justice for Loretta Capeheart Campaign at justice4loretta.com.