In 2019, Tennessee passed a new law expanding the state’s anti-SLAPP protections. The law now protects parties from lawsuits “filed in response to a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association.” Tenn. Code Ann. § 20-17-104(a). The law permits affected parties to petition the court to dismiss such lawsuits. § 20-17-104(a). Upon filing the petition, all discovery is stayed, although the court may allow “specified and limited discovery relevant to the petition upon a showing of good cause.” § 20-17-104(d).
The defendant must make a prima facie showing that the case “is based on, relates to, or is in response to that party’s exercise of the right to free speech, right to petition, or right of association.” § 20-17-105(a). If the defendant satisfies this burden, the court must grant the motion to dismiss unless the plaintiff can show a prima facie case for the essential elements of the claim. § 20-17-105(b). The court may base its decision on sworn affidavits and other admissible evidence. § 20-17-205(d). The court’s decision “is immediately appealable as a matter of right to the court of appeals.” § 20-17-106.
If the court dismisses the legal action, it “shall” award the defendant attorney’s fees and costs, § 20-17-107(a)(1). The court may also issue additional relief, including sanctions, “to deter repetition of the conduct by the party who brought the legal action or by others similarly situated.” § 20-17-107(a)(2). However, if the court finds that a motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law was “frivolous” or only brought to delay the proceedings, the court may award the plaintiff reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in opposing the motion to dismiss. § 20-17-107(b).