The District of Columbia’s Anti-SLAPP Act applies to lawsuits based on acts “in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest.” D.C. Code Ann. § 16-5501(1) (2019). Such an act is defined as a statement made in connection with an issue under consideration by a government body or one made “in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.” § 16-5501(1)(A)(i)-(ii).
The law also applies to lawsuits arising from “expressive conduct” involving “petitioning the government or communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest.” § 16-5501(1)(B). The law defines an “issue of public interest” as “an issue related to health or safety; environmental, economic, or community well-being; the District government; a public figure; or a good, product or service in the market place.” § 16-5501(3). Certain commercial statements are outside the protection of the law, which specifically excludes from the definition of an issue of public interest “private interests, such as statements directed primarily toward protecting the speaker’s commercial interests rather than toward commenting on or sharing information about a matter of public significance.” Id.
A SLAPP defendant may file a special motion to dismiss within 45 days after service of the complaint, and the court will hold an expedited hearing on the motion and issue a ruling “as soon as practicable” after the hearing. § 16-5502(a), (d).
If the defendant shows that the legal action is one involving an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on an issue of public interest, the court will grant the motion, unless the plaintiff demonstrates that the claim is likely to succeed on its merits. § 16-5502(b). The law does not specify what evidence the court will consider in making this determination.
If the court grants the motion to dismiss, it will be “with prejudice,” meaning the plaintiff cannot refile the claim. § 16-5502(d).
If the court denies the anti-SLAPP motion, the defendant may immediately appeal that decision. Competitive Enter. Inst. v. Mann, 150 A.3d 1213, 1228 (D.C. 2016), as amended (Dec. 13, 2018) (finding that decisions denying anti-SLAPP motions are immediately appealable under the “collateral order” doctrine because they “conclusively” determine a disputed question of law, “resolve an important issue” separate from the merits of the case, and would be “effectively unreviewable on appeal from a final judgment”).
The court may—but is not required to—award attorney’s fees and costs to the prevailing defendant. Conversely, the court may award attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiff if it finds that the motion to dismiss was frivolous or brought solely to delay the proceedings. § 16-5504(a)–(b).
The anti-SLAPP law also states that discovery activities must be stayed from the time the anti-SLAPP motion is filed until the court has ruled on it, although the judge may order “specialized discovery” to be conducted if it “appears likely” that such discovery will enable the plaintiff to defeat the motion to dismiss and is not unduly burdensome. § 16-5502(c)(1)–(2). However, in September 2023 the D.C. Court of Appeals, the highest “state” court in DC, issued a ruling that invalidated the discovery-stay provision of DC’s anti-SLAPP law. According to the ruling, the discovery stay provision violates a provision of DC’s Home Rule Act, which requires that the DC courts follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, unless a modification of those rules is effected through a process requiring approval of the Court of Appeals (which was not done with the anti-SLAPP statute). It is unclear whether that decision will be appealed.