Rhode Island has a strong anti-SLAPP law. It provides protection against lawsuits based on a person’s exercise of petition and free speech rights under the U.S. and Rhode Island constitutions in connection with a matter of public concern. R.I. Gen. Laws § 9-33-2(a) (2019). Under the statute, three categories of activities are protected: statements made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding; statements made in connection with an issue under consideration by a governmental body; and statements made in connection with an issue of public concern. § 9-33-2(e).
However, the statute exempts statements that “constitute a sham,” or those not genuinely aimed at procuring favorable government action. § 9-33-2(a). Specifically, the petition or free speech activity will be deemed a sham only if it is “objectively baseless,” in the sense that no reasonable person exercising these rights could realistically expect success in procuring the government action, and “subjectively baseless,” in the sense that the act is actually an attempt to use the government process “for one’s own direct effects.” § 9-33-2(a)(1)-(2).
The Rhode Island anti-SLAPP law gives defendants the ability to file an “appropriate motion” asserting the immunity set forth above. § 9-33-2(c).
The court will stay discovery activities from the time the motion is filed until the court has ruled on it, although after a hearing on the matter, the court may permit discovery if the requesting party can show good cause for it. § 9-33-2(b).
The statute does not specify what standard a court will use to decide an anti-SLAPP motion or what evidence it will consider in making this determination.
The Rhode Island anti-SLAPP law includes a provision allowing the state attorney general or any governmental body to which the SLAPP defendant’s acts were directed to intervene to defend or otherwise support the defendant. § 9-33-3.
If the court grants the motion, it will order the plaintiff to pay the prevailing SLAPP defendant’s attorney’s fees and costs. § 9-33-2(d). The court will also award actual damages and may—but is not required to—award punitive damages to a defendant who can show that the claim was frivolous or brought “with an intent to harass” the defendant or “otherwise inhibit” the defendant’s exercise of the right to petition or free speech. Id.