And while speaking out against drilling projects is nothing new in this region, some companies and landowners who have financial interests in drilling want protesters to pipe down. In May, Dewey Homes and Investments — a land developer that leased to Rex Energy its 36 acres adjacent to the Geyers — and 12 Middlesex and Adams township residents who lease to Rex Energy, and two other natural-gas developers, filed suit against the organizations and residents who sued the township and an additional resident not on the lawsuit: Amy Nassif, organizer of the Mars Parent Group. The Geyers are not involved in the lawsuit.
According to the complaint, the plaintiffs are seeking damages for interference with their contracts. The complaint states that the nonprofits and residents acted “in concert … making false, misleading, or inflammatory public statements presenting improper and unfounded appeals and wrongful and/or unsupported affidavits before the Zoning Hearing Board.”
Dewey Homes did not respond to CP’s inquiry.
“When I realized that it was local residents who were demanding financial compensation for a delay in fulfilling a speculative lease agreement with Rex Energy, I was in complete shock and utterly devastated,” Nassif says.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania calls it a SLAPP suit — or a strategic lawsuit against public participation — and has demanded that the complaint be dropped.
“What the Mars parents have done here is to protest the placement of a well that is 1,100 feet from some of their homes and .6 miles from the school,” says Witold “Vic” Walczak, legal director of ACLU Pennsylvania. “They’ve spoken at public meetings, organized allies, and they have taken available legal action, all of which is constitutionally protected activity under the First Amendment. These suits are especially dangerous because they not only chill the people being sued, but they have a similar effect on other people who might consider getting involved and exercising their own rights.”
The ACLU has filed a brief in support of the defendants.
“The only way that they could win this lawsuit is to show that the only reason our clients were doing this is to harass the plaintiffs and prevent them for getting money,” Walczak says. “Our clients don’t even know these people. There cannot be any doubt that our clients’ intent is to block the well pad because of concern for the safety and welfare of children.”