NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCBD) – Charleston Animal Society recently learned that they won a defamation lawsuit brought against them by Charleston Carriage Works in 2018.

The lawsuit centered around an incident involving carriage horse Big John, who fell over in 2017 during a tour in Downtown Charleston.

Charleston Animal Society is celebrating a victory in a landmark court ruling.

“Today, we’re here to address a four-year legal claim,” Charleston Animal Society’s president and CEO Joe Elmore said. “A lawsuit. One of many tactics intended to bully the Animal Society into silence.”

That lawsuit was filed by Charleston Carriage Works over claims of defamation.

“The plaintiff falsely claimed the Animal Society defamed them about a video provided by eyewitnesses,” Elmore said, “which the Animal Society and others published.”

The Animal Society says the carriage company used a strategic lawsuit against public participation, or SLAPP lawsuit, to try to intimidate them.

“The plaintiff misused and tied up the court system for four years,” Elmore said. “An overwhelmed court system to distract the public from the real issue, which is making the working conditions of the animals more humane.”

They say this court ruling is monumental.

“What this decision does is send a very clear message that a defamation lawsuit intended solely to silence an opposing viewpoint,” attorney Beth Palmer said, “or to stifle public discourse, will not be tolerated.”

And advocates commend the Animal Society’s resolve.

“Without them standing up for this,” Andy Brack of the South Carolina Press Association said, “we wouldn’t have this very important win for free speech and the First Amendment.”

Now, they’d like to see the Palmetto State join the other 32 states that have anti-SLAPP laws.

“We need good anti-SLAPP legislation in South Carolina,” Brack said. “We don’t need to have people filing cynical lawsuits to make points that infringe upon the public discourse.”

Charleston Carriage Works responded in a statement, which can be found below: