Georgia

The Georgia anti-SLAPP law protects acts “in furtherance of the right of free speech or the right to petition government for a redress of grievances under the Constitution of the United States or the Constitution of the State of Georgia in connection with an issue of public interest or concern.” Ga. Code Ann. 9-11-11.1 (2010). However, such an act is statutorily limited to statements made before a legislative, executive or judicial proceeding or in connection with an issue under review by a governmental body, a definition that is narrowly construed. For example, the state’s highest court held that a woman who made statements in online postings and email messages complaining about a health care facility’s poor treatment and care of her handicapped son could not invoke the anti-SLAPP statute in a defamation claim against her because, although her statements pertained to a matter of public concern, they were not made in connection with an existing official proceeding or investigation, nor did they request the initiation of such. Berryhill v. Ga. Cmty. Support & Solutions, Inc., 638 S.E.2d 278 (Ga. 2006).

When a plaintiff files a lawsuit against someone for an act that reasonably could be viewed as one in furtherance of the rights of free speech or petition in connection with an issue of public interest or concern, the Georgia anti-SLAPP statute requires the plaintiff and his attorney to file written verifications under oath certifying that the claim is grounded in fact and warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for a modification of existing law. Ga. Code Ann. 9-11-11.1. If the plaintiff fails to make the verification within 10 days of being notified, most likely by the defendant, of its requirement, the court must dismiss the case.

If the plaintiff submits the required verifications, the defendant can file a motion to dismiss or strike the case for improper verification. The court will hear the motion within 30 days, barring court emergencies. Discovery activities are placed on hold once the motion is filed, although the judge may order discovery to be conducted if the requesting party provides notice of its request to the other side and can show good cause for it. In ruling on the motion to dismiss or strike, a Georgia court will first determine whether the verification is false. If that is the case, the judge will grant the motion if he also determines that the statements in the verification indicate the claim was brought for an improper purpose or based on protected statements. Alternatively, a Georgia court will grant a SLAPP defendant’s motion to dismiss or strike if it finds the statements were made “in good faith.” Atlanta Humane Soc’y v. Harkins, 603 S.E.2d 289, 293—94 (Ga. 2004).

If the court denies the motion to dismiss or strike, the defendant is entitled to appeal that decision immediately. Id. at 291. Either party may ask the court to impose costs and attorney fees on the other side at any time during the course of the action, but no later than 45 days after final disposition of the case. Ga. Code Ann. 9-11-11.1. Under this provision, a defendant may request this imposition even if the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the action. Moreover, the court will, at the request of the defendant or on its own, impose sanctions, which may include dismissal of the claim and an order to pay “reasonable expenses incurred because of the filing of the pleading, including a reasonable attorney’s fee,” against a plaintiff, his attorney or both for a wrongful verification that the claim is not a SLAPP suit. However, the statute does not specify how a court determines whether a claim is wrongly verified.