In a victory against retaliatory lawsuits, the Weekapaug Fire District filed a motion dismissing Westerly resident Caroline Contrata from a lawsuit regarding a highly contentious shore access dispute in the town. The ACLU of Rhode Island had joined the case to represent Contrata, who was being sued for monetary damages by the District in what the ACLU argued was a SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) suit intended to chill her from exercising her freedom of speech about this dispute. The ACLU had sought her dismissal from the case under the SLAPP statute.

In December, the Fire District filed this suit in Superior Court against more than 20 defendants, including the Attorney General and the Town of Westerly, for seeking a determination from the Coastal Resources Management Council that a strip of land along the beach at Weekapaug is not purely private. Contrata, who had moved to intervene in the proceedings before the CRMC, was the only private individual being sued in the case. In defending Contrata, ACLU of RI cooperating attorney Michael Rubin had argued in a court filing last month that the only reason she was named in the complaint was because she “had the temerity to ask the CRMC to designate a tract that is universally acknowledged as a roadway … as a public right-of-way.”

The ACLU called the dismissal of Contrata from the suit before it proceeded further a victory validating her right to petition the government without retaliation. In response to the Fire District’s actions, Contrata said today: “With the help of the ACLU, we achieved success in the court case.  Now, I can get back to the merits of the Spring Avenue right-of-way case that is before the CRMC.” Attorney Rubin added: “I am glad that this local governmental district relented in the case of this brave citizen, Caroline Contrata.”

ACLU of RI executive director Steven Brown said: “The ACLU is very pleased that the Fire District reconsidered its decision to sue Ms. Contrata and has dismissed her from this lawsuit. We commend Ms. Contrata for standing up to the District to vindicate her rights and the rights of others.”

A copy of the District’s motion dismissing Contrata from the case, alongside the ACLU’s memo to dismiss and the Fire District’s initial complaint, can be found here.