Home / Chilton Ranch Lawsuit
In July, 2002, the Center for Biological Diversity published on its web site a News Advisory alleging that Jim Chilton, and Chilton Ranch & Cattle, were guilty of mismanaging the Montana Allotment. Attached to the News Advisory were 2 Appendices which contained photos allegedly showing damage to the environment caused by the Chilton’s cattle. The Center subsequently issued a second separate press release describing the pictures as showing the "devastation" caused by cattle. This press release was reprinted in a local paper.
The News Advisory remained published on the Center’s web site AFTER the Center had abandoned its administrative appeal with the Forest Service. Moreover, the News Advisory contained outright falsehoods and the photos contained in the Appendices were false and misleading. At least four of the photos were not even taken on the Montana Allotment, while others showed a mining site, a deer camp, and, worse, the site of an annual May Day festival where hundreds of people, including the Center's photographer, had recently camped. There was a long history of attacks by the Center against the Chiltons, including prior lawsuits, and a complaint to the Forest Service that had been shown to be false.
Mr. Chilton’s attorney notified the Center as to the libelous nature of the News Advisory and accompanying photos and informed the Center of the need to remove the defamatory and untrue material. The Center ignored the demand, essentially forcing Mr. Chilton to file a lawsuit to protect his name.
After a lengthy trial in January, 2005, the jury returned a verdict stating that the Center lied in its News Advisory as well as in several of the photos. The jury awarded Judgment in favor of Mr. Chilton and Chilton Ranch, $100,000 in actual damages and $500,000 in punitive damages. The Trial Judge refused to set aside the verdict but instead upheld it. An examination of the photos published by the Center with photos of the surrounding area, which were presented at trial, show why the jury found in favor of Chilton and against the Center for Biological Diversity.
On June 30, 2005, the Center filed a Notice of Appeal asking the Arizona Court of Appeals to review the jury's verdict. On December 6, 2006, the Arizona Court of Appeals, Division 2, issued an opinion upholding the jury’s verdict and award. At oral argument on the appeal, the 3 appellate judges saw some of the same photos (including photo 18) that were presented to the jury. The opinion fully upheld not only the monetary award, but also the arguments that were presented by the Chilton Ranch and Jim Chilton.
In 2007, the Arizona Supreme Court rejected the Center for Biological Diversity’s appeal of the jury’s decision and award and their appeal of the decision of the Arizona Court of Appeals which had supported the jury’s finding.
In the appeals process, Amicus briefs were filed by environmental corporations that advocated for the Center for Biological Diversity’s right to lie, defame, misrepresent and practice a reckless disregard for the truth as long as their intentions were to advance their “environmental” agenda. Big names that chimed in with Amicus briefs to OK the Center’s defamatory actions were The Sierra Club, Forest Guardians, Arizona Wildlife Federation and the Maricopa Audubon Society.