WAYNE M. KLOCKE, Independent Administrator of the Estate of Thomas Klocke, Plaintiff - Appellant
NICHOLAS MATTHEW WATSON, Defendant-Appellee
from the United States District Court for the Northern
District of Texas
JONES, BARKSDALE, and WILLETT, Circuit Judges.
H. JONES, Circuit Judge.
critical issue in this appeal is whether, or to what extent,
the Texas Citizens Participation Act ("TCPA"), Tex.
Civ. Prac. & Rem. Code §§ 27.001- .011, which
is a type of anti-SLAPP statute,  applies in a diversity suit
in federal court. The district court held it applicable as a
"substantive" matter and accordingly granted
appellee Nicholas Watson's motion to dismiss and awarded
attorney's fees pursuant to the TCPA. Resolving an issue
that has brewed for several years in this circuit, we
conclude that the TCPA does not apply to diversity cases in
federal court and therefore REVERSE and
REMAND for further proceedings.
Wayne Klocke's son, Thomas, was a student at the
University of Texas at Arlington who tragically committed
suicide in June 2016 after being refused permission to
graduate. Thomas was allegedly the victim of appellee
Watson's false charge of homophobic harassment, for which
the University administered its severe punishment after
allegedly violating Title IX procedures designed to achieve
administrator of his son's estate, Klocke sued the
University for Title IX violations and Watson for common law
defamation and defamation per se. Watson moved to
dismiss the defamation claims under the TCPA.
responded in a document titled "Plaintiff's
Objection to Defendant Watson's Motion to Dismiss; in the
alternative, Motion for Protective Order and Request for
Procedural Clarification from the Court and Brief in
Support." The response asserted that the TCPA is
inapplicable in federal court, but it did not substantively
address Watson's arguments based on the requirements of
the TCPA. The objection noted that the Fifth Circuit had not
explicitly held whether the TCPA applied in federal court and
asked the district court to clarify "whether and how it
will entertain Defendant Watson's TCPA motion to dismiss
in this case . . . and what procedures and deadlines will
apply." Klocke also requested the district court to
clarify whether he must file a reply pursuant to the Northern
District of Texas's Local Rules or at the motion hearing
prescribed in the TCPA. Alternatively, Klocke moved for
discovery and further time to respond substantively to the
TCPA motion if the court held that the TCPA was applicable.
district court overruled the objection to applying the TCPA
and concluded that Klocke waived any "substantive"
TCPA arguments by failing to make them within twenty-one days
pursuant to Local Rule 7.1(e). The district court denied his
other requests and accordingly granted Watson's motion to
dismiss. Later, the court awarded Watson $25, 000 in
attorney's fees, $3, 000 in expenses, and a $1.00
sanction, all pursuant to the TCPA. The district court
entered a "Final Judgment as to Certain
Party." Klocke timely appealed.
court reviews de novo a decision applying state law
in federal court. See Hall v. GE Plastic Pac. PTE
Ltd., 327 F.3d 391, 395 (5th Cir. 2003). The court
reviews "the district court's administrative
handling of a case, including its enforcement of the local
rules and its own scheduling orders, for abuse of
discretion." Macklin v. City of New Orleans,
293 F.3d 237, 240 (5th Cir. 2002). Abuse of discretion is
also the test on appeal of a "court's decision to
limit discovery…." Crosby v. La. Health Serv.
and Indem. Co., 647 F.3d 258, 261 (5th Cir. 2011).
appeal, Klocke principally contends that the TCPA's
essentially "procedural" provisions conflict with
federal procedural rules and therefore do not apply in
federal court. He also argues that the district court erred
by enforcing its local rules and not allowing him to respond
to Watson's TCPA motion and by denying him an opportunity
to move for discovery under the TCPA.
Applying the TCPA ...