Conservatives win new shot to sue over Chick-fil-A ban at Texas airport

3 minute read

A painting crew finishes painting over a vandalized wall that vandals had scrawled "Tastes Like Hate" on at a Chik-fil-A restaurant in Torrance, California, August 3, 2012. REUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn

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  • Texas Supreme Court revives lawsuit against San Antonio
  • Lawsuit centers on Republican-based "Save Chick-fil-A law"

(Reuters) - Texas' top court on Friday ruled that conservative activists suing the city of San Antonio over its decision to prevent Chick-fil-A from opening a restaurant in an airport due to its support of anti-LGBTQ causes had failed to show the city was violating state law but could try again.

The Texas Supreme Court on a 9-0 vote reversed a lower court's dismissal of the case to allow the activists to try to allege sufficient facts to show the city was violating a Texas law barring governments from taking "adverse" steps against companies based on their religious beliefs.

That statute is popularly known as the "Save Chick-fil-A law" and was signed into law by Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott in 2019 after San Antonio's city council voted to exclude Chick-fil-A from an airport concession contact.

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Five conservative activists sued San Antonio soon after the law was passed alleging the city was violating it because the city council's vote was based on Chick-fil-A's financial support of Christian organizations that oppose same-sex marriage.

The activists' lawyers include Jonathan Mitchell, one of the architects of the state's novel law banning abortions after six weeks.

Justice Rebeca Aizpuru Huddle, a Republican, said the plaintiffs' complaint failed to allege a current violation, instead focusing on the March 2019 vote, which predated the law.

She said the vote standing alone does not mean there is today a "credible threat" of adverse action against Chick-fil-A that would allow government immunity for the city to be waived under the law.

But Huddle said the activists deserved a chance to amend their complaint to plead current violations.

Neel Lane, a lawyer for the city at Norton Rose Fulbright, said "the plaintiffs did not and could not plead a violation because the city never violated the statute and never will violate the statute."

Mitchell did not respond to requests for comment.

Justice Jimmy Blacklock, in a concurring opinion joined by Justice John Devine, agreed the case should be revived but said he disagreed that the 2019 vote was insufficient to prove a current violation as it established "a forward-looking policy."

The court left it to the trial court to decide whether the activists have standing to sue.

Chick-fil-A did not respond to a request for comment. The family-owned, Atlanta-based company in 2019 said it would stop funding two Christian organizations after it had come under fire from LGBTQ campaigners for giving them money.

The case is Von Dohlen v. City of San Antonio, Texas Supreme Court, No. 20-0725.

For the plaintiffs: Jonathan Mitchell of Mitchell Law

For San Antonio: Neel Lane of Norton Rose Fulbright

Read more:

Fast-food chain Chick-fil-A changes donations after facing LGBT+ protests

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Nate Raymond reports on the federal judiciary and litigation. He can be reached at nate.raymond@thomsonreuters.com.