Freedom of speech is one of the foundations of a free society. Due to an increase in nuisance lawsuits that attempt to stifle those who are expressing this fundamental right, California has enacted several anti-SLAPP measures.
In fact, the state’s approach is rather unique.
What is a SLAPP suit?
The acronym SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. Simply put, such suits are a form of intimidation.
This definition applies to any case brought by a corporation, government agency, or public official in an attempt to silence discourse on topics that are of interest to the general public.
For example, an individual can write an op-ed piece criticizing a public official without fear of being silenced.
Other examples of protected speech include:
- Distributing flyers or petitions
- Peaceful demonstrations
- Investigative journalism
- Filing a complaint
In an attempt to prevent individuals and groups from calling out public officials, criticizing a company, or speaking out against a topic of interest to the public, those businesses, government officials, and others might attempt to play their grievances off as defamation, interference with economic advantage, invasion of privacy, or any one of a number of other rationalizations.
Although such lawsuits don’t constitute fraud, they generally have no legal merit. However, they do waste court resources and create a chilling effect in terms of public discourse surrounding important issues.
The state has simplified the process of identifying and dismissing such suits, saving courts and citizens time, money, and frustration.
How California is slapping down attempts at legal intimidation
Under California statute §425.16 of the Code of Civil Procedure, SLAPP defendants can request that the court strike down such lawsuits under a range of objections. The court then has 30 days to rule on the motion to strike, during which time all discovery except special discovery is halted.
In order to get the SLAPP suit dismissed, the defendant must prove that their manner of redress or speech falls under one of the legally protected petitions or free speech activities outlined in Braun v. Chronicle Publ’g Co., 61 Cal. Rptr. 2d 58 (Cal. Ct. App. 1997). The plaintiff must also concede that they would not prevail should the case proceed.
If the motion to strike is granted, the plaintiff bringing the suit is subject to all court costs and fees. The objective is to reduce the amount of needless and costly litigation and protect the rights of citizens and others to freedom of speech.
You have a right to petition for a redress of grievances and to speak freely on matters of public interest. Now, you also have more legal options that are designed to protect those rights.