Pennsylvania has a narrow anti-SLAPP law that applies only to individuals petitioning the government about environmental issues. 27 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 7707, 8301–03 (2019). To challenge a SLAPP suit, a defendant must show that he or she is being sued for communications relating to the implementation or enforcement of an environmental law or regulation that are made to a government agency or in a court action to enforce an environmental law or regulation, with the aim of procuring favorable government action. § 8302(a).
Pennsylvania courts have interpreted this language broadly to include statements made directly to a government body and statements made to any person or entity, so long as it is aimed at procuring favorable government action on an environmental issue. See, e.g., Penllyn Greene Assocs., L.P. v. Clouser, 890 A.2d 424, 433–34 (Pa. Commw. Ct. 2005). Examples of statements in this latter category include “a letter to the editor of a local newspaper expressing concern about the possibility of contamination at a proposed development, a statement made to a newspaper reporter about the possibility of contamination at a proposed development, or a signboard which protests the development of a wetland. Although such oral and written statements are technically not made directly to the government, they are more likely than not, aimed at procuring favorable government action and may be entitled to the immunity” authorized by the anti-SLAPP law. Id. at n.11.
However, the statute contains exemptions and does not apply to communications that are irrelevant or immaterial to the implementation or enforcement of an environmental law or regulation. 27 Pa. Stat. and Cons. Stat. Ann. § 8302(b). The law also does not protect statements that are knowingly false, deliberately misleading, or made with malicious and reckless disregard for their falsity; made for the sole purpose of interfering with existing or proposed business relationships; or later determined to be a wrongful use of process. Id.
The Pennsylvania anti-SLAPP law gives a defendant the ability to file a motion asking the court to determine whether the statements at issue are immune from liability. § 8303. The court is required to conduct a hearing on the matter. Id. The statute does not specify what standard a court will use to decide the motion or what evidence it will consider in making this determination.
If the court denies the motion, the defendant is entitled to appeal the decision immediately, and discovery activities are placed on hold until the appellate court rules. Id. If the court grants the motion, it will impose attorney’s fees and costs on the plaintiff. § 7707. In addition, the court may—but is not required to—order a full or partial award to a defendant who partially prevails. Id.