In a trilogy of recent cases, the Texas Courts of Appeals have employed the “commercial speech” exception to exclude certain business claims from the scope of the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act (“TCPA”). This trend will likely only accelerate now that the legislature has further reduced the TCPA’s reach with additional statutory changes, restricting the protections regarding the right of association and the TCPA’s application to trade secret cases and non-compete cases.

Background

The TCPA is an anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute allowing litigants to seek early dismissal of a lawsuit if the legal action is based on, or is in response to, a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association. Like other states, Texas enacted the TCPA to address concerns over the increasing use of lawsuits to chill the exercise of First Amendment rights.
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On August 23, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit ruled that the Texas Citizen’s Participation Act, Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code Chapter 27 (“TCPA”), did not apply in federal court. Klocke v. Watson, 936 F.3d 240, 244 (5th Cir. 2019). Nine days later, on September 1, 2019, key statutory changes went into effect for cases filed after the amendments’ enactment.[1] See H.B. 2730, Sept. 1, 2019. These amendments changed the requirements of the TCPA in several ways, some of which the Klocke panel had directly addressed when determining the TCPA’s applicability in federal court.

The question therefore arises whether the TCPA remains inapplicable in federal court for cases filed after September 1, 2019.[2] A Fifth Circuit panel addressing this issue today, and applying the rulings in Klocke, would likely rule that the TPCA remains inapplicable. Specifically, despite the various changes, the TCPA still “imposes evidentiary weighing requirements not found in the Federal Rules, and operates largely without pre-decisional discovery[.]” Klocke, 936 F.3d at 246. Accordingly, the TCPA “conflicts with those rules,” “answers the same question” as those rules, and therefore “cannot apply in federal court.” Id. at 244, 245, 246.
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On August 23, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit issued its long-awaited opinion in Klocke v. Watson, 17-11320, 2019 WL 3977545, at *1 (5th Cir. Aug. 23, 2019), holding that the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”) does not apply to diversity cases in federal court. This decision settles a split manifested across dozens of cases at the district courts.

By ruling that the TCPA does not apply to diversity cases in federal court, the Fifth Circuit foreclosed an otherwise potent weapon used by defendants throughout Texas in trade secrets litigation. Because of the TCPA’s extremely broad application, defendants in trade secrets cases, for example, often asserted that claims alleging the misappropriation of trade secrets and related causes of action were based on and related to the defendant’s freedom to speak freely on all topics, including the trade secrets at issue, and its freedom to associate with competitors, and therefore such claims should be dismissed under the TCPA. Such arguments are now foreclosed by this ruling, at least in federal court.
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