Decision in suit brought by former Houston school board candidate affirmed on appeal

By Sam Knef | May 17, 2018

KANSAS CITY - A judgment in a lawsuit filed by a former candidate for school board in Houston claiming malicious prosecution by a financial advising firm and its law firm has been affirmed on appeal. 

According to an order filed April 24, the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District found that evidence had established that Husch Blackwell on behalf of client Hart and Hart Co. and its principal Larry Joe Hart, had probable cause to initiate an underlying defamation lawsuit.

The appeals court panel, comprised of Judges Mark D. Pfeiffer, Anthony Rex Gabbert and Edward R. Ardini Jr., affirmed Cole County Circuit Judge Daniel R. Green's summary judgment ruling for defendants Husch and Hart and Hart Co.

Underlying litigation was initiated in 2009 by Hart and Hart Co., represented by Husch, claiming that remarks John T. Impey made in letters to the editor at the Springfield News-Leader regarding Hart and a project endorsing the financing of bonds to build a new high school, were defamatory and interfered with Hart, who proposed to underwrite a proposed bond sale.

The question went to voters in April 2009 and was defeated, along with Impey who was running for the school board.

Before the election and after Impey's remarks were published regarding Hart, Impey asked the court for a hearing on a special motion to dismiss pursuant to the state's anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation) statute.

Impey had claimed in his letters, among other things, that "Hart advised the school board to circulate rumors that the historic [Houston High School] building was 'unsafe' and 'structurally unsound.' When a report by Pinnacle engineering failed to confirm this rumor, Hart advised the board to shift its tactic to calling it ‘unusable’ [sic] to condition the public to consider their living history a 'waste of space.'"

The trial court sided with Hart Co. and Husch and granted them attorneys' fees and costs for bringing the anti-SLAPP dismissal motion, as a court may award them if it finds that a special motion under anti-SLAPP is "frivolous."

Hart Co. and Hart ultimately dismissed their action against Impey in 2011, and nearly two years later, Impey filed suit against them.

After a hearing, a trial court judge dismissed with prejudice Impey's petition for failure to state a claim. Later, another appeals court reversed and remanded and the case went to Cole County.

Impey appealed after Green entered summary judgment to Hart Co. and Husch.

The appeals panel held in part that "Because we have already found that Impey cannot show that Husch lacked probable cause in initiating the action and thus cannot prevail on his malicious prosecution claim, we need not address this point."

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