Judge Tonya Parker of the 116th District Court in Dallas has dismissed a lawsuit brought against the State Fair of Texas by the Austin law firm Riggs & Ray, P.C., which appeared to be acting to further the political agenda of a party that does not want the State Fair at Fair Park in Dallas. The lawsuit alleged that the State Fair is a “governmental body” subject to the Texas Public Information Act. In fact, the State Fair of Texas is a private Texas nonprofit corporation granted tax-exempt status by the Internal Revenue Service under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code and is not supported by any governmental money. Judge Parker dismissed the lawsuit under the Texas Citizens Participation Act (Texas’ “Anti-SLAPP” law) concluding that the Fair is not a governmental body and awarded the State Fair attorney’s fees, expenses and sanctions totaling $298,206.59.
The State Fair asked the judge to order that the $30,000 in sanctions be paid into the Fair’s Youth Scholarship Program, which gives money for college to graduating high school seniors around the state of Texas who have participated in competitive youth livestock events held at the State Fair, as well as from five Dallas Independent School District high schools near Fair Park, the home of the State Fair for 131 years.
“We think that contributing the sanctions awarded to the education of deserving students from the Fair Park neighborhood and throughout the Lone Star State is a good outcome of this senseless lawsuit that was a waste of the court’s time” said Mitchell Glieber, president of the State Fair of Texas. “We are happy that the judge saw that this lawsuit had no merit. Its purpose was to harass and further a false narrative about the Fair’s relationship with the City of Dallas.”
The city is the State Fair’s landlord, as it owns Fair Park. Under the lease, with which the Fair is in full compliance, the Fair has contributed more than $63 million in major maintenance projects since 1998 for improvements to Fair Park, not including an additional $71 million in projects that the Fair has funded for the park and for State Fair operations.
This lawsuit, if successful, would have paved the way for other private 501(c)(3) nonprofits in Texas to be classified as “governmental bodies” forcing them to spend their limited resources and funding to deal with the inevitable requests for what has always been understood as private information. The Fair is pleased that the judge in dismissing the case has saved these charitable organizations from this unnecessary burden.
The plaintiffs have indicated that they will appeal the judge’s decision. “We are confident that the judge’s decision will be upheld at the appellate level,” Glieber said.