On July 1, 2021, the Texas Court of Appeals issued a substitute opinion, affirming its prior disposition, in the case of Mr. Christopher Brann and his former in-laws, the Guimaraeses.
This case has a long and storied history. It emanates from a parental kidnapping of Mr. Brann’s son by his ex-wife, Marcelle Guimaraes in 2013 after she had initiated a divorce and custody suit in Texas, where the family lived. The parties agreed to be joint conservators of their son, and Mr. Brann agreed to let Ms. Guimaraes travel to Brazil with their son for her brother’s wedding. As her time in Brazil was nearing a close, her parents began communicating with Mr. Brann, including telling him that Marcelle and their son could not return as planned because Marcelle was ill, but providing proof of the purchase of a new return plane ticket. Marcelle and their son never returned. There was a custody suit in Brazil that granted Marcelle custody. Mr. Brann also filed a Hague Abduction return petition in Brazil, which was denied. There was subsequent legal action in the Texas family courts, and there was a criminal suit against the Guimaraes in Texas. Marcelle’s parents were briefly incarcerated in Texas, and did not appeal their criminal conviction for aiding and abetting a kidnapping, but they did initiate a civil suit against Mr. Brann based on things he said about them. That is the suit at issue here. Mr. Brann sought to dismiss it under the Texas Citizens Participation Act. The trial judge refused, but the Court of Appeals reversed. The Guimaraeses sought an interlocutory appeal, which, on July 1, 2021 reaffirmed its prior decision, dismissing their case.
After Mr. Brann and Marcelle Guimaraes were divorced in the Texas courts, Mr. Brann testified before two legislative committees, one in the U.S. House of Representatives and the other in the U.S. Senate, and filed a criminal complaint against Marcelle and her parents with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. His representative also spoke with the media about his situation. The Guimaraeses’ civil suit against Mr. Brann argued that Mr. Brann had made false statements to various courts, law enforcement, and legislative bodies to exact revenge, to enrich himself, and resulting in their wrongful convictions and damage to their reputations. In this interlocutory appeal, the Court again found that Mr. Brann met his initial burden under the TCPA to have the Guimaraeses’ suit dismissed. The Guimaraeses could not prove that their legal claim was exempt from the TCPA. Finally, while the Guimaraeses may have met their burden to establish a prima facie case of false imprisonment, fraud on the court, and slander/slander per se, the Court concluded that Mr. Brann was still entitled to the case being dismissed because he met his burden to establish valid defenses to these claims, namely, collateral estoppel (the Guimaraeses never appealed their conviction) and absolute and conditional communicative privilege (Texas law provides absolute privilege for statements made during legislative and judicial proceedings and conditional privilege for statements made in a report to law enforcement).