Anti-SLAPP: preventing bullying through the courts

14 06 2008

A SLAPP is a “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation,” in other words, it is a lawsuit designed to get a citizen to shut-up.

Anti-SLAPP laws are laws that are intended to prevent people from using the law to prevent public participation, especially when it comes to exercising the First Amendment.

I know very little about this specific concept, so I decided to investigate.

First, a SLAPP, is basically a civil suit, filed against someone for expressing their opinion about an issue of public concern. Because of the cost of litigation is so high, a bully corporation can silence a critic with the mere threat of a lawsuit. According to the First Amendment Project SLAPP lawsuits have been filed against people for, among other things, writing a letter to the editor, calling a public official, speaking at a public meeting and even complaining to a school about unsafe conditions. “SLAPPs all arise out of expressive activity which is directed to public concerns,” according to FAP. They are typically frivolous, intended to bury the defendant in fear and legal fees.

Getting even a frivolous lawsuit dismissed is an expensive endeavor. So several states have “anti-SLAPP” statutes. The principle of an anti-SLAPP doctrine is that a SLAPP victim will be allowed to file a “motion to strike,” and prior to discovery, there will be a hearing, during which suit must be dismissed unless the filer establishes a probability of prevailing. If the SLAPP victim prevails, their attorneys fees must be paid by the filer of the suit.

But if the court finds that the anti-SLAPP motion to strike was frivolous, or filed in bad faith, the tables are turned. This prevents anti-SLAPP from becoming its own SLAPP tool to prevent legitimate use of the courts.

Of course Texas falls short and doesn’t have such a law.

Some great anti-SLAPP resources include:

The Society of Professional Journalists: Anti SLAPP Model

The First Amendment Project: Anti-SLAPP Resource Center

Massachusetts Law About SLAPP

SLAPP Happy: Corporations that Sue to Shut you Up

And finally….

A Reporter wins and anti-SLAPP ruling against her newspaper for an article she wrote about newsroom troubles in the American Journalism Review (the newspaper sued for libel, but amazingly, didn’t seem know that you can’t sue for libel unless you can prove that it was false- hope they don’t sue me for saying that).

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