Filing lawsuits and pressing criminal charges in California are constitutionally protected exercises of free speech and petition as long as they’re supported by some form of probable cause.
What is Malicious Prosecution?
Malicious prosecution occurs when the original defendant in an unsuccessful prior lawsuit or criminal prosecution alleges that the original plaintiff or victim brought the prior action with malicious motives. The original defendant in the prior action becomes the plaintiff in a malicious prosecution lawsuit, and vice versa.
Malicious prosecution requires proof that the original plaintiff or victim filed a prior action against the original defendant, commenced at the direction of the original plaintiff or victim, with a dismissal suggesting the actual innocence of the original defendant, and a finding that the action was not supported by probable cause and the original plaintiff or victim acted with malice.
A malicious prosecution plaintiff may sue for the damages resulting from the prior action.
What is a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)?
SLAPPs are lawsuits filed against people or organizations to retaliate for speaking out against them by exercising their First Amendment rights to free speech or petition. SLAPPs are often initiated by corporations, government officials, and business owners. Typical SLAPP claims can include defamation (libel or slander), malicious prosecution, abuse of process, interference with prospective economic advantage, or conspiracy.
What is an Anti-SLAPP motion in a malicious prosecution lawsuit?
An anti-SLAPP motion allows defendants being sued in retaliation for exercising their free speech and petition rights—including filing lawsuits or seeking criminal prosecution—to quickly dismiss the lawsuit and require the plaintiff to pay their court costs and attorney fees.
Malicious prosecution is difficult to prove for a few reasons. First, the termination of the prior action must suggest the factual innocence of the original defendant, not just the original plaintiff’s or prosecutor’s failure to prove its case. Similarly, it requires a finding that the prior action was not supported by probable cause—in other words, it was objectively meritless on its face. Finally, it must be proven that the original plaintiff or victim acted with malicious intent—that is, actual hostility or ill will—toward the original defendant.
This is a difficult burden, and an anti-SLAPP motion may convince the judge that the plaintiff cannot meet this burden of proof, resulting in early dismissal and an award of court costs and attorney fees. An anti-SLAPP motion is a very formal legal proceeding that requires an experienced attorney.
What is a SLAPPback lawsuit?
Successful defense of a civil lawsuit with an anti-SLAPP motion means that successful party has the option to begin a lawsuit for damages incurred beyond the attorney’s fees. With this type of lawsuit, the defendant who filed the anti-SLAPP motion can attempt to recover financial compensation for damages including financial distress, physical and mental stress, and negative impacts on family relationships.
The Law Office of Ryan T. Darby specializes in filing anti-SLAPP motions and SLAPPback lawsuits and can help represent your interests in malicious prosecution cases. Contact us today for a consultation.