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Legislature clarifies SLAPP law intent, scope

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Legislature clarifies SLAPP law intent, scope 09/22/97 CALIFORNIA--The California legislature has amended the state's anti-SLAPP law to clear up confusion…

Legislature clarifies SLAPP law intent, scope

09/22/97

CALIFORNIA–The California legislature has amended the state’s anti-SLAPP law to clear up confusion in the courts about how broadly the law’s protection should be construed. Gov. Pete Wilson signed the bill in mid-August, which specifies that the state’s anti-SLAPP rules are to be broadly construed and applied to conduct as well as to speech and petitions.

In 1992 the state legislature added a provision to California’s code of civil procedure intended to prevent what are called “SLAPP” suits — strategic litigation against public participation. The rule allows courts to dismiss defamation suits based on speech made “in connection with a public issue or an issue of public interest” unless plaintiffs can show that they are likely to prevail.

However, since the anti-SLAPP law was enacted, several courts have considered cases alleged to be SLAPP suits. These have ranged from allegations of bribery in campaign finance to disparaging remarks about a landlord made by a fair housing agency.

Results have likewise varied widely. Some courts have construed “public issue” and other similar phrases in the law broadly, applying the SLAPP prohibition to a wide range of lawsuits. Others have interpreted the legislature’s intent more restrictively. Courts also disagreed over whether or not the law applied to suits based on defendants’ conduct rather than more narrow interpretations of “speech” and “petition.”

The 1997 amendment to the law was intended to clear up this confusion by adding specific provisions which state that the scope of the law is intended to be broad and the law applies to conduct as well as to speech. (California Code of Civil Procedure section 425.16, as amended by Senate Bill 1296)