Amended in 2017, Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law applies to speech “(i) regarding matters of public concern that would be protected under the First Amendment” or “(ii) made at a public hearing” before the governing body of any locality or other political subdivision. Va. Code Ann. § 8.01-223.2(A) (2019).
Unlike most anti-SLAPP laws, however, the Virginia law still fails to identify any special procedures allowing a defendant to invoke these protections at an early stage of the proceedings. The statute also only insulates from civil liability claims arising from “tortious interference with an existing contract or a business or contractual expectancy,” defamation, or conspiracy claims related to those torts. Id.; § 18.2-499.
The law does not provide protection for statements made with knowledge of, or reckless disregard for, whether they are false.§ 8.01-223.2(A).
When a lawsuit is dismissed under this statute, the defendant “may” be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. § 8.01-223.2(B). The law does not specify whether a stay of discovery is available.
Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law does not address whether a trial court’s decision on an anti-SLAPP motion is immediately appealable. However, in 2020, the Virginia General Assembly amended the Virginia Code to provide a right to immediately appeal an order denying a defendant’s motion to prevent the case from moving forward based on various types of immunity, such as sovereign immunity or qualified immunity. § 8.01-670.1(B). Whether this new provision permits a party to immediately appeal a trial court’s decision on a motion asserting immunity under Virginia’s anti-SLAPP law has not yet been addressed by a Virginia court.