Court of Appeals of Texas, Second District, Fort Worth
IAN GHRIST; GHRIST LAW FIRM, PLLC; SHAWN COKER; NEIGHBORHOOD PARTNER, INC.; BLUE MOON REALTY GROUP, LLC; AND WIZARD FUNDING, LLC APPELLANTS
MBH REAL ESTATE LLC, AFI LOAN SERVICING, LLC, ANSON FINANCIAL, INC., J. MICHAEL FERGUSON, P.C. APPELLEES
THE 236TH DISTRICT COURT OF TARRANT COUNTY TRIAL COURT NO.
SUDDERTH, C.J.; MEIER and PITTMAN, JJ.
MEMORANDUM OPINION 
SUDDERTH CHIEF JUSTICE
eight issues,  Appellants Ian Ghrist and Ghrist Law Firm,
PLLC (the Ghrist Defendants) and Shawn Coker, Neighborhood
Partner, Inc., Blue Moon Realty Group, LLC, and Wizard
Funding, LLC (the Coker Defendants) bring this interlocutory
appeal of the trial court's denial of their chapter 27
motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought against them by
Appellees MBH Real Estate LLC, AFI Loan Servicing, LLC, Anson
Financial, Inc., and J. Michael Ferguson, P.C. See
Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 27.001-.011
(West 2015), § 51.014(a)(12) (West Supp. 2017). We
affirm in part and reverse in part the trial court's
order and remand this case to the trial court for further
The Anti-SLAPP Statute
practice and remedies code chapter 27-the Texas Citizens
Participation Act (TCPA)-protects citizens from retaliatory
lawsuits that seek to intimidate or silence them on matters
of public concern, i.e., "Strategic Lawsuit[s] Against
Public Participation" or "SLAPP" suits, by
providing a mechanism for summary disposition of such suits.
In re Lipsky, 460 S.W.3d 579, 584 (Tex. 2015) (orig.
proceeding) (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§§ 27.001- .011); Schofield v. Gerda, No.
02-15-00326-CV, 2017 WL 2180708, at *10 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth
May 18, 2017, no pet.) (mem. op.); see also Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.002. The
statute's purpose is to identify and summarily dispose of
lawsuits designed to chill First Amendment rights, while at
the same time protecting the rights of a person to file a
meritorious lawsuit. Lipsky, 460 S.W.3d at 589
(citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.002).
disposition is achieved through the TCPA's provision for
the expedited dismissal of lawsuits. The statute permits a
defendant, within 60 days of service of the lawsuit, to seek
dismissal of the lawsuit by challenging the plaintiff to show
prima facie evidence to support his claim. See Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §§ 27.003, .005.
The movant is entitled to an expedited hearing and, if
ultimately successful on the motion, an award of court costs,
reasonable attorney's fees, and other expenses incurred
in defending against the legal action. Id.
§§ 27.004, .009; Sullivan v. Abraham, 488
S.W.3d 294, 295 (Tex. 2016).
under the TCPA involves a two-step process. First, the
defendant-movant has the burden to show by a preponderance of
the evidence that the plaintiff's claim "is based
on, relates to, or is in response to [the movant's]
exercise of: (1) the right of free speech; (2) the right to
petition; or (3) the right of association." Tex. Civ.
Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. § 27.005(b);
Schofield, 2017 WL 2180708, at *10. If the movant
satisfies this burden, then the burden shifts to the
plaintiff-respondent to establish "by clear and specific
evidence a prima facie case for each essential element of the
claim in question." Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
§ 27.005(c). The clear and specific evidentiary standard
may be satisfied by direct or circumstantial evidence.
See Hand v. Hughey, No. 02-15-00239-CV, 2016 WL
1470188, at *4 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth Apr. 14, 2016, no pet.)
(mem. op.) (explaining that the clear and specific standard
"'neither imposes a heightened evidentiary burden
nor categorically rejects the use of circumstantial evidence
when determining the plaintiff's prima-facie-case burden
under the Act'" (quoting Andrews Cty. v. Sierra
Club, 463 S.W.3d 867, 867 (Tex. 2015))).
Standard of Review
directed to construe the statute "liberally to
effectuate its purpose and intent fully," see
Hotchkin v. Bucy, No. 02-13-00173-CV, 2014 WL 7204496,
at *1 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth Dec. 18, 2014, no pet.) (mem.
op.) (citing Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann. §
27.011(b)), and we review de novo a trial court's denial
of a motion to dismiss under the TCPA. Hand, 2016 WL
1470188, at *3 (citing United Food & Commercial
Workers Int'l Union v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 430
S.W.3d 508, 511 (Tex. App.-Fort Worth 2014, no pet.)). In our
de novo review, we consider the pleadings and supporting and
opposing affidavits stating the facts on which the liability
or defense is based. Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code Ann.
The Underlying Claims
their original petition, Appellees brought an assortment of
legal claims against various Appellants, including
negligence, gross negligence, breach of fiduciary duty,
conversion, civil conspiracy, violations of chapter 17 of the
Texas Business and Commerce Code (the Deceptive Trade
Practices-Consumer Protection Act (DTPA)), violations of
chapter 12 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code
("Liability Related to a Fraudulent Court Record or a
Fraudulent Lien or Claim Filed Against Real or Personal
Property"), defamation per se, and a suit for
declaratory relief under chapter 37 of the Texas Civil
Practice and Remedies Code (Uniform Declaratory Judgments
Act). In response, Appellants filed a joint
motion to dismiss and a brief in support
Appellants' motion is confusing and fraught with mistakes
and typographical errors,  taking both the motion and brief
together, it is clear that Appellants took the position that
all of Appellees' causes of action somehow related to
statements to which the TCPA applied and that, therefore, the
trial court should dismiss all causes of action and the case
in its entirety. This is also Appellants' position on
Dismissal of Claims
their first issue, Appellants query, "Should any of
[Appellees'] claims have been dismissed pursuant to
Chapter 27 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies
Code?" Given the argument that follows, we take
this as a contention that the trial court erred by denying
Appellants' motion to dismiss in its entirety.
See Tex. R. App. P. 38.9. For convenience and
expediency in analyzing this issue, we separate out the cause
of action for defamation per se and discuss it apart from the
remaining causes of action applicable to Appellants.
Defamation Per Se Action
sued the Ghrist Defendants for statements made in a February
6, 2017 letter from Ghrist to Elmer Hernandez,  which Appellees
claim were defamatory per se. In particular, Appellees claim
that in the following excerpt from the letter, the Ghrist
Defendants "published false statements that [Appellees]
were misappropriating client funds":
I saw your affidavit in the Motion to Expunge Notice of Lis
Pendens. The lis pendens will not interfere with the closing
on your property at 2420 Purselley Drive, Fort Worth, Texas.
Anson Financial aka AFI Mortgage and MBH Real Estate LLC are
defendants in a lawsuit involving misappropriation of funds
of MBH Real Estate LLC. If you make a payment to Anson
Financial aka AFI Mortgage, or to any entity owned by or