District of Columbia

The District of Columbia anti-SLAPP Act of 2010, which went into effect March 31, 2011, applies to suits based on acts “in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest.” D.C. Law 18-0351 (2011). Such an act is defined as a statement made in connection with an issue under consideration by a governmental body or one made in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest. The act also applies to suits arising from expressive conduct involving petitioning the government or communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest. The act defines an issue of public interest as “an issue related to health or safety; environmental, economic, or community well being; the District government; a public figure; or a good, product or service in the market place.” However, certain commercial statements are outside the protection of the act, which specifically excludes from its definition of an issue of public interest “private interests, such as statements directed primarily toward protecting the speaker’s commercial interests rather than toward commenting on or sharing information about a matter of public significance.”

A motion to dismiss may be brought under the D.C. anti-SLAPP Act, and the court will hold an expedited hearing on the motion and issue a ruling “as soon as practicable” after the hearing. Discovery activities are placed on hold from the time the motion is filed until the court has ruled on it, although the judge may order “specialized discovery” to be conducted if it “appears likely” that such discovery will enable the plaintiff to defeat the motion to dismiss and is not unduly burdensome. If the defendant can show that the legal action is one involving an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on an issue of public interest, the court will grant the motion unless the plaintiff can demonstrate that the claim is likely to succeed on its merits. The act does not specify what evidence the court will consider in making this determination.

If the motion to dismiss is granted, dismissal will be “with prejudice,” meaning the plaintiff cannot refile the claim. Moreover, the court may — but is not required to — award attorney fees and costs to the prevailing defendant. Conversely, the court may award costs and attorney fees to the plaintiff if it finds that the motion to dismiss was frivolous or brought solely to delay the proceedings.