Vermont has a strong anti-SLAPP law. To challenge a SLAPP suit in Vermont, a defendant must show that he or she is being sued for “an action arising from the . . . exercise, in connection with a public issue, of the right to freedom of speech or to petition the government for redress of grievances under the United States or Vermont Constitution.” Vt. Stat. Ann. tit. 12, § 1041(a) (2019).
Under the statute, the rights of free speech or petition in connection with a public issue include four categories of activities: statements made before a legislative, executive, or judicial proceeding; statements made in connection with an issue under consideration by a govern- mental body; statements made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; and any other conduct in furtherance of the exercise of free speech or petition rights in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest. § 1041 (i).
The Vermont anti-SLAPP law allows a defendant to file a motion to strike the complaint, which the court will hear within 30 days unless good cause for an extension exists. § 1041(b), (d). The court will automatically stay discovery activities from the time the motion is filed until the court has ruled on it, although the court may permit “limited discovery” to assist in its decision on the motion to strike, if the requesting party can show good cause for it. § 1041(c).
The judge will grant the motion unless the plaintiff can show that the defendant’s claimed exercise of the petition or free speech right lacked any reasonable factual support and arguable basis in law, and the acts in question caused actual injury to the plaintiff. § 1041(e)(1). In making this determination, the court will consider the plaintiff’s complaint, the SLAPP defendant’s motion to strike, and any sworn statements containing facts on which the assertions in those documents are based. § 1041(e)(2).
If the court grants the motion to strike, it must impose attorney’s fees and costs on the plaintiff. § 1041(f)(1). Conversely, the defendant must pay the plaintiff’s attorney’s fees and costs if the court finds that the motion to strike was frivolous or brought solely to delay the proceedings. Id.
Either party is entitled to immediately appeal the court’s decision on the motion to strike. § 1041(g).