HELEN HUONG LAN NGUYEN A/K/A MRS. VAN BINH, Appellant
MAYA DANGELAS, AS NEXT FRIEND OF HER MINOR CHILD, K.D., Appellee
Appeal from the 127th District Court Harris County, Texas
Trial Court Case No. 2018-56878
consists of Justices Lloyd, Goodman, and Landau.
Beth Landau Justice
Dangelas and her adoptive daughter, K.T.,  are both
originally from Vietnam. They now live in Houston and share
strong ties with the local Vietnamese refugee community. For
a time, Maya was close friends with Helen Nguyen, who also
lives in Houston. After Maya and Helen had a falling out,
Maya was told that Helen was making alarming, disparaging
comments about Maya's daughter to others in the
Vietnamese refugee community. Maya, as next friend of K.T.,
sued Helen for defamation. Helen moved for dismissal of
Maya's suit under the Texas Citizens Participation
The trial court denied Helen's dismissal motion, and
three issues, Helen contends the trial court erred in denying
her TCPA motion. We affirm.
2007, while Maya was still living in Vietnam, Maya's
brother and his girlfriend had a child. The girlfriend chose
to place the child for adoption. Maya stepped in and agreed
to adopt the child. Maya's adoption of K.T.-who hereafter
will be referred to as Kelly-became final in 2010. Maya and
Kelly left Vietnam and moved to Houston in 2012.
around 2016, Kelly began taking classes at the Van Binh
Self-Defense Academy, which was owned by Maya's good
friend, Helen, and Helen's husband.
mid-2018, Maya and Helen had a falling out. A couple months
later, two mutual friends, Huy Luong and Lan Luong, were at a
restaurant with Helen when Helen began discussing Kelly.
According to their declarations, which are part of the
appellate record, Helen told Huy and Lan at the restaurant
that Kelly is the "bastard child" of the former
president of Vietnam, Truong Tan Sang. Huy and Lan state that
Helen's accusation carries "significant weight"
in the Vietnamese refugee community because Vietnamese
refugees experienced the cruelty of the Viet Cong party when
it took over their country and because many of the refugees
lost family members in the takeover.
Lan state that it was "apparent" Helen
"intended to disparage" Kelly by making such a
claim. They explain: "Asserting that [Kelly] is the
illegitimate child of a powerful member of the Viet Cong
party is particularly harmful in our community. That invites
hatred. The child will be subject to threats and
to Maya, Helen's alarming accusations were not limited to
dinner conversation. Maya alleges that Helen conspired with
others to cause certain Facebook posts to appear online,
which also call Kelly the "bastard child" of Truong
Tan Sang and call Maya the "Number One Prostitute"
contends Helen's statements were false. The appellate
record includes reports of DNA testing performed in 2010 and
again in 2018, which establish that Maya's
brother and Kelly are biologically related.
further contends that Helen's statements significantly
damaged Kelly. Maya's affidavit describes the damage
Helen's statement allegedly caused:
K.D. was harmed by Mrs. Nguyen's false statements. . . .
Mrs. Nguyen's statements have caused a significant
disruption to K.D.'s daily life that is interfering with
her education and enjoyment of life. K.D. has not been able
to go to the Vietnamese school to study Vietnamese. K.D.
cannot go to the Vietnamese Temple to worship. K.D. cannot go
to the Vietnamese community to learn about her heritage and
cultural background. She cannot go to the Vietnamese market.
She cannot go to the normal places she goes in her daily
life. I have had to take K.D. out of the activities she
enjoys so that she will not be exposed to threats.
as next friend of Kelly, sued Helen for defamation. She seeks
damages on Kelly's behalf, injunctive relief, and a
retraction of Helen's false statements about Kelly. Helen
moved to dismiss the defamation suit under the summary
dismissal procedures found in the Texas Citizens
Participation Act. See Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem.
Code §§ 27.001-.011.
TCPA contains a mechanism for limited discovery. Id.
§ 27.006(b). Maya invoked that provision and, over
Helen's objection, the trial court allowed Maya to depose
Helen. Portions of the deposition transcript are in the
deposition, Helen was asked about Kelly's parentage.
Helen testified she knows only that Kelly is Maya's
daughter. Helen stated that she has no other knowledge about
Kelly's biological parents. She denied ever having a
conversation about Kelly being the daughter of the former
president of Vietnam. Helen testified that she has no
interest in the topic of Kelly's parentage-describing the
issue as "not important" and "nothing at
all," because it is Kelly's "private
life." In other words, Helen denied ever discussing
Kelly's parentage, directly contradicting Huy's and
Helen's deposition, the trial court denied Helen's
TCPA dismissal motion, and Helen appeals. See id.
§ 51.014(a)(4) (permitting interlocutory appeal of
denial of TCPA motion).
Citizens Participation Act
TCPA's purpose is to protect "citizens who petition
or speak on matters of public concern from retaliatory
lawsuits that seek to intimidate or silence them."
In re Lipsky, 460 S.W.3d 579, 584 (Tex. 2015). It
does so by creating a "set of procedural mechanisms
through which a litigant may require, by motion, a threshold
testing of the merits of legal proceedings or filings that
are deemed to implicate the expressive interests protected by
the statute, with the remedies of expedited dismissal,
cost-shifting, and sanctions for any found wanting."
Serafine v.Blunt, 466 S.W.3d 352, 369 (Tex
App-Austin 2015, no pet) (Pemberton, J, concurring);
see Tex. Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§
TCPA's dismissal provision and relevant statutory
27.003 of the TCPA provides that a party may file a motion to
dismiss a legal action that "is based on, relates to, or
is in response to [that] party's exercise of" one of
three rights: free speech, petition, or association. Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code § 27.003(a). The Legislature
defined "legal action" as "a lawsuit, cause of
action, petition, complaint, cross-claim, or counterclaim or
any other judicial pleading or filing that requests legal or
equitable relief." Id. § 27.001(6). The
Legislature also statutorily defined the three sets of rights
protected by TCPA summary-dismissal procedures. Id.
§ 27.001(3) (defining "exercise of the right of
free speech" as "a communication made in connection
with a matter of public concern"); § 27.001(2)
(defining "exercise of the right of association" as
"a communication between individuals who join together
to collectively express, promote, pursue, or defend common
interests"); § 27.001(4) (defining "exercise
of the right to petition").