Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) are civil lawsuits or countersuits usually brought by corporations or government entities against individuals or organizations for the purpose of chilling or preventing certain speech or behavior. SLAPPs generally involve claims of defamation, libel, slander, interference with prospective economic advantage, malicious prosecution, and/or abuse of process. Typically a SLAPP plaintiff does not expect to win the lawsuit or resolve a legal issue, rather the purpose of filing is to intimidate and censor their opponents by forcing them to defend against costly litigation.
What Is California’s Anti-SLAPP Statute?
California enacted the Anti-SLAPP statute to protect the free speech rights afforded by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution and the California Constitution. The Anti-SLAPP statute provides a special motion to strike a complaint where the claims were brought primarily to discourage speech about issues of public significance and/or participation in government proceedings.
To determine if the speech or activity relates to an issue of public significance, the courts will look at various factors, such as 1) whether the subject of the speech or activity impacts the public at large, 2) whether the subject involves a person or entity in the public eye, and 3) whether the subject is made in connection with a topic that is of widespread public interest.
The following are some examples of issues of public interest:
– Making statements about the character of a public official
– Making statements or testifying at a city counsel or other governmental meetings
– Filing a public interest lawsuit
– Making statements about the solvency of a large institution
– Reporting misconduct of a public official
– Posting a negative review as a consumer
What is a “SLAPPback” Lawsuit?
If you prevail on the motion to strike, the lawsuit against you will be dismissed and you will recover attorneys’ fees and costs. You will also be able to file a SLAPPback lawsuit. A SLAPPback is a lawsuit that you may bring against the SLAPP plaintiff to recover compensatory and/or punitive damages for abuse of the legal process and malicious prosecution.
What Do You Do If You Believe You Have Been Served With a SLAPP Complaint?
If you believe that the plaintiff is suing you for the purpose of intimidating, silencing, and burdening you with costly litigation, contact an attorney immediately. You have sixty (60) days from the time you were served with the complaint to file the motion to strike. In some cases the court may permit a longer time for filing, but do not rely on the court’s leniency.
For more information on SLAPP lawsuits, contact experienced business lawyer Drew E. Pomerance today.