Rhode Island

Rhode Island’s anti-SLAPP law protects against claims based on a person’s exercise of his rights of petition or free speech under the federal or state constitutions in connection with a matter of public concern. R.I. Gen. Laws 9-33-2 (2010). Under the statute, a person’s exercise of his rights of petition or free speech includes three categories of activities: statements made before a legislative, executive or judicial proceeding; statements made in connection with an issue under consideration by a governmental body; and statements made in connection with an issue of public concern.

However, the statute exempts statements that “constitute[] a sham,” or those not genuinely aimed at procuring favorable governmental action. Specifically, the petition or free-speech activity will be deemed a sham only if it is “objectively baseless” in the sense that no reasonable person exercising these rights could realistically expect success in procuring the governmental action and “subjectively baseless” in the sense that the act is actually an attempt to use the governmental process for one’s own direct effects.

The Rhode Island anti-SLAPP statute gives defendants the ability to file a motion asking the court to determine whether the statements at issue are immune from liability. Discovery activities are placed on hold from the time the motion is filed until the court has ruled on it, although the judge, after a hearing on the matter, may order discovery to be conducted if the requesting party can show good cause for it.

The statute does not specify what standard a court will use to decide these motions or what evidence it will consider in making this determination. The Rhode Island anti-SLAPP statute includes a provision allowing the state attorney general or any governmental body to which the SLAPP defendant’s acts were directed to intervene to defend or otherwise support the defendant. 9-33-3.

If the court grants the motion, it will order the plaintiff to pay the prevailing SLAPP defendant’s costs and attorney fees. Moreover, the court will award actual damages and may — but is not required to — award punitive damages to a defendant who can show that the claim was frivolous or brought “with an intent to harass the [defendant] or otherwise inhibit [his] exercise of [the] right to petition or free speech under the United States or Rhode Island constitution.” 9-33-2.