Court: Maine Supreme Judicial Court
Date Filed: June 22, 2021
Update: In an opinion issued on Nov. 23, 2021, the Main Supreme Judicial Court declined to declare the state’s anti-SLAPP statute unconstitutional, but modified the process it previously set forth for determining whether to grant a special motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP law, eliminating the option for SLAPP defendants to seek limited discovery and an evidentiary hearing in connection with a SLAPP plaintiffs’ claims. The court also declined to take two contemplated actions which would have narrowed the application of the anti-SLAPP law: limiting the definition of petitioning activity to only to those statements made in connection with zoning or other land development disputes; and implementing a process which would permit a non-moving party to avoid dismissal under under the anti-SLAPP law by establishing that it did not intend to interfere with the moving party’s petitioning rights.
Background: In April 2021, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court invited friend-of-the-court briefs in Thurlow v. Nelson, a case involving the constitutionality of Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute.
Strategic lawsuits against public participation, or SLAPPs, are meritless legal claims that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights. SLAPPs frequently target journalists and news organizations who are reporting on matters of public concern and subject them to expensive and disruptive litigation.
Anti-SLAPP laws, including Maine’s statute, help protect SLAPP defendants by permitting dismissal of these lawsuits at the earliest stages of the lawsuit. Aside from providing a mechanism for early dismissal, these laws also shield defendants from the financial burdens associated with litigation.
In its invitation, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court asked those submitting briefs to address the law’s constitutionality, among other questions concerning the interpretation of the statute.
Our Position: The Maine Supreme Judicial Court should uphold the constitutionality of Maine’s anti-SLAPP law.
- Anti-SLAPP statutes, including Maine’s, protect and encourage the exercise of First Amendment freedoms.
- Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute does not violate the constitutional right to a jury trial.
- The court should not limit the definition of petitioning activity to apply only to those statements made in connection with zoning or other land development disputes.
- The court should not implement a process that would permit a non-moving party to avoid dismissal under the statute by establishing that it did not intend to interfere with the moving party’s petitioning rights.
Quote: “SLAPPs, by their very definition, are meritless claims that chill the exercise of First Amendment rights and thus do not implicate the constitutional right to a jury trial.”
Related: To learn more about the anti-SLAPP law in Maine and other states, check out the Reporters Committee’s Anti-SLAPP Legal Guide.
While state anti-SLAPP laws are a useful tool for protecting journalists from frivolous lawsuits, the Reporters Committee has advocated for Congress to pass federal anti-SLAPP legislation. As Reporters Committee Executive Director Bruce D. Brown testified in 2016, “a federal statute is needed because not all states have anti-SLAPP laws and some federal courts will not apply state provisions in federal courts in diversity-jurisdiction cases.”