Civil suit seeks $250,000 from Troutdale City Councilor over comments made in monthly newspaper

A lawsuit filed more than two years ago against a Troutdale City Councilor and a monthly newspaper is still moving forward, while a call for dismissal is being determined by the Oregon Court of Appeals.

Eastwinds Development LLC seeks $250,000 from City Councilor Rich Allen and The Northwest Connection Enterprises, according to a lawsuit filed with Multnomah County Circuit Court on Nov. 16, 2016.

The suit claims Allen knowingly made false statements in an opinion piece about a proposed project by Eastwinds Development LLC at the north end of Troutdale near the Sandy River. Eastwinds Development filed suit after requesting Allen and the newspaper publish a retraction, which did not occur. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - RICH ALLEN, Gresham Outlook - News Six candidates, including three councilors, run for open positions TROUTDALE:  Three seats up for grabs  on council

Allen declined comment, noting he was advised by his lawyer to not speak about the ongoing case.

Allen's lawyer filed for dismissal of the case citing a statute arguing the it is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP) case. SLAPP is a maneuver used to silence critics participating in a public capacity, and is often seen as an infringement on a citizen's free speech rights.

"Plaintiff's claim is based upon Defendant's constitutionally protected speech, specifically speech made in a public forum on a matter of public concern," Allen's lawyers wrote in court filings. "Plaintiff's suit is without merit, and was filed solely to chill defendant's speech."

The anti-SLAPP motion was shot down by the Multnomah County Circuit court, which allowed the case to proceed. Allen's attorneys disagreed and appealed the ruling.

Oregon Anti-SLAPP statues allow for appeals to be filed while a lawsuit is still in motion. This is unlike most court cases that must be concluded before appeals can be filed.

The legal dispute is over a proposed Eastwinds development project in north Troutdale that has subsequently fallen through. Eastwinds had planned to transform the Troutdale riverside area into a destination resort.

The city owns 12 acres along the Sandy River just north of downtown, and Eastwinds owned the remaining eight acres. Troutdale's Urban Renewal Agency bought Eastwinds portion earlier this year.

In legal filings, Eastwinds claims the opinion article by Allen tainted its ethical reputation and subsequently hampered business dealings with the city.

"Rather than argue against this urban renewal project based on the acts, defendant Allen wrote an article for The Northwest Connection that defamed Eastwinds with false statements about Eastwinds and about every aspect of the project," Eastwinds' lawyers wrote in the appeal response. "As a result, the urban renewal project was stalled and Eastwinds suffered financial and reputational injury."

In appeal documents, Allen's attorney's disputed this argument.

"Eastwinds claims the urban-renewal project 'stalled' after the article was published," Allen's attorneys wrote. "Eastwinds is apparently contending the article caused this alleged 'stall.' There is no evidence of such a causal effect."

Matt Wand, general counsel for Eastwinds Development, declined to elaborate.

"We will not comment on the substance of the pending lawsuit and that is directly part of the case," Wand said.

Eastwinds Development is represented by other lawyers in the cases.

Attorney Daniel Lindahl, who is representing Allen, told The Outlook he had no further comment on the cases.

Oral arguments in the appeal case were heard by the Oregon Court of Appeals on Tuesday, Oct. 30.

Discovery — a court proceeding that presents evidence before moving to trial — was held in Multnomah County Circuit Court in May. A trial date has not yet been set.

Wand said it's now just a waiting game to hear what happens with the appeal.

In addition to the plans falling through, Allen is stepping away from the Troutdale City Council at the end of the year.

Even though the development is no longer moving forward and Allen will no longer serve on Troutdale City Council, Wand said it's important to proceed.

"Him not being on City Council has nothing to do with it," Wand said. "He slandered us. He slandered Eastwinds. He didn't retract his statement, or apologize and that hasn't changed."

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