|NMU||ROUNDUP||Libel||Feb 8, 2001|
Three states introduce anti-SLAPP bills
- State legislatures aim to protect from frivolous lawsuits the speech rights of people who overtly oppose matters of public concern.
Legislators in three states have introduced anti-SLAPP bills in the new legislative session. Colorado, New Mexico and Oregon could join 16 other states that have anti-SLAPP provisions on the books.
A SLAPP lawsuit, or “strategic lawsuit against public participation,” is a civil complaint or counterclaim filed against individuals or organizations arising from their communications to government or speech on an issue of public concern. SLAPPs are commonly filed by corporations, real estate developers and government officials against individuals who oppose them on public issues.
Proponents of anti-SLAPP statutes claim these laws are necessary to prevent the chilling effect on speech that results when the initial lawsuit is filed. Faced with significant costs of defending a lawsuit, many people chose to simply remain silent. Anti-SLAPP laws enable them to fight the lawsuit.
The Colorado bill, H.B. 01-1150, was introduced on Jan. 16 by Rep. Bill Sinclair (R-El Paso) and co-sponsored by Sen. E. Jim Dyer (D-Durango). The bill provides that a person subject to a SLAPP suit could file a motion to dismiss it, suspend discovery and shift the burden of proof to the party who filed the suit. The bill also authorizes a person damaged or injured to seek relief for actual or compensatory damages, punitive damages, attorneys fees and costs.
The New Mexico bill, H.B. 241, was introduced by Rep. Patsy Trujillo Knauer (D-Santa Fe). The bill provides that “a defendant in that action is immune from liability for that conduct, except upon clear and convincing evidence that there was no objectively reasonable basis for the conduct or activity and the conduct or activity was undertaken in bad faith.” The bill also provides an expedited review of SLAPP suits and similar procedural options as the Colorado legislation. And, it permits government intervention to assist the defendant.
House Bill 241 also provides an array of remedies; litigation costs, attorneys fees, expert fees. If the court finds that the purpose of the lawsuit was to harass the defendant, the court may also award actual damages and “additional sanctions, including disciplinary referrals” on the plaintiff’s lawyers or firm.
Oregon has dueling bills; S.B. 497 and H.B. 2460. The house bill was sponsored by Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Salem). Schrader attempted to enact an anti-SLAPP statute in 1999, but the bill died in the state Senate after passing the House.
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Ridge signed into law Pa. H.B. 393 in December 2000. That law provides a remedy against lawsuits “brought primarily to chill the valid exercise by citizens of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and to petition the government for the redress of grievances.” Under the new statute, a person who successfully defends a SLAPP lawsuit can be awarded reasonable attorney fees and the costs of litigation.
Florida also added an anti-SLAPP law last year.
© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press