Texas SC: Absolute Privilege Applies to Statements Made During FCPA Investigations

The Texas Supreme Court recently reversed a ruling in a 2013 Texas Court of Appeals case involving Robert Writt and the Shell Oil Company.

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Justice had asked Shell to conduct some internal investigations into possible Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA) violations within the company, and the company agreed to do so. After the investigation, Shell pointed to Writt as being a possible bad actor. Writt, however, was never charged with wrongdoing and eventually filed a lawsuit against Shell for libel. The case raised the question as to whether Shell’s statements to the DOJ were subject to absolute or conditional privilege.

The Court of Appeals decided that Shell’s statements were an example of conditional privilege, reversing the trial court’s decision to grant summary judgment to Shell. However, the state Supreme Court disagreed, ruling that the case is, in fact, an example of absolute privilege.

Absolute privilege protects individuals from tort claims involving allegations of defamation in which the statements alleged to be defamatory were made either by members of legislative assemblies while on the assembly floor or in communications as part of a trial. The Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in this case basically means Shell is protected from liability because of the context in which it made the statements about Writt. Had Shell, for example, made defamatory statements about Writt outside of a legal context, it would have been liable in Writt’s lawsuit.

The application of absolute privilege can add some challenges to whistleblower lawsuits, so it’s important to work with a skilled attorney to make sure your case proceeds according to plan. For more information, speak with trusted Dallas Attorney Steve Kardell at Whistleblower Law for Managers.