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Court Orders NY Drugstore to Pay Punitive Damages to Artist Represented by NYCLU

A New York Supreme Court justice has ordered Duane Reade to pay punitive damages to an artist and newspaper for a lawsuit Duane Reade filed against the two over a newspaper piece criticizing the drug-store giant. The NYCLU defended the artist, Patrick Clark of Rockaway, with the assistance of the law firm Proskauer Rose LLP.

Mr. Clark had been chosen to create a memorial to Rockaway residents killed in the World Trade Center attack in a public park in Rockaway. Next to the park, Duane Reade was building a store that was to feature a large lighted billboard on the store’s roof. In his March 23, 2003, advertisement, which was entitled “Take Down the Sign!!!/Boycott Duane Reade,” Mr. Clark criticized Duane Reade for its planned billboard and urged community members to boycott the drugstore if Duane Reade insisted on putting up the billboard.

Duane Reade then sued Mr. Clark and the newspaper. The NYCLU filed papers to have the case dismissed and sought damages on the grounds that the filing of the suit was a retaliatory SLAPP suit. In a ruling the NYCLU and Proskauer Rose received last night, Supreme Court Justice Debra James agreed with the NYCLU’s position, dismissed Duane Reade’s lawsuit, and ruled that the lawsuit was so meritless that Mr. Clark and the newspaper “are entitled to both compensatory and punitive damages.” The court found that the case had “no purpose other than intimidation, harassment and punishment.”

NYCLU Associate Legal Director Christopher Dunn said, ““The Duane Reade lawsuit was an appalling attack on the right of free speech. As the court found, Mr. Clark’s views about an important matter to the Rockaway community were fully protected by the First Amendment.”

Patrick Clark said, “Duane Reade’s lawsuit was just another slap in the face of our community. I am grateful the court protected my First Amendment rights.”

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