It’s a regrettably common practice in our legal system for plaintiffs to file lawsuits to infringe upon the free speech and petitioning rights of others. The idea is that it’s easier and cheaper to retract the speech and settle than to spend the time and money necessary to defend against a lawsuit—even if it’s frivolous. This type of abusive lawsuit is known as a strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP).
Fortunately, defendants who are victimized by these frivolous lawsuits have a powerful remedy: the anti-SLAPP motion. This allows defendants to file a motion at the beginning of the lawsuit asking the Court to order the case dismissed. Defamation and malicious prosecution are the most common types of lawsuit susceptible to this type of abuse, but it can take the form of any number of different lawsuits. If you are sued because you spoke out against someone or sued someone—or even just threatened to sue someone—then anti-SLAPP might be your solution.
Here’s how the California Court of Appeal describes it: “The point of the anti-SLAPP statute is that you have a right not to be dragged through the courts because you exercised your constitutional rights.” ((2004) People ex rel. Lockyer v. Brar, 115 Cal.App.4th 1315, 1317).
Here’s what an anti-SLAPP motion needs to prove:
- The lawsuit arises from the defendant’s protected petitioning or free speech activities; and
- The plaintiff’s lawsuit probably wouldn’t prevail at trial.
If the judge grants this motion, then the lawsuit is dismissed—and, the plaintiff is ordered to pay the defendant’s attorney fees! This is a very powerful and effective remedy.
If you have been served with a civil lawsuit intended to punish you for exercising your right to free speech or using the legal system, then it’s imperative to quickly contact an attorney who specializes in this unique area of law. The Law Office of Ryan T. Darby specializes in vigorously defending its clients’ free speech rights. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.
Anti-SLAPP’s “Public Issue” Requirement
The first step toward winning an anti-SLAPP motion is proving that the lawsuit arises from the defendant’s exercise of the constitutional right to speech or petition in connection with a public issue. Plaintiffs in these cases therefore typically argue that the statements made by the defendant were not related to an issue of public interest and do not fall under anti-SLAPP.
The Court Broadly Interprets Anti-SLAPP
The Civil Code specifies that the anti-SLAPP statute “shall be construed broadly.” As a result, the defendant doesn’t need to prove that the plaintiff actually violated any free speech rights, or even intended to violate them––only that the lawsuit “arises” from the defendant’s protected speech. This is a very broad standard, and gives the defendant a tremendous advantage.
What Activities Fall Under Anti-SLAPP?
Any of the following activities is protected by anti-SLAPP:
- Statements and writings made before legal proceedings, including legislative, executive, and judicial bodies;
- Statements and writings made in connection with the proceedings described above;
- Statements and writings made in public places and forums in connection with issues of public interest; and
- Any other conduct in furtherance of the constitutional rights of free speech and petition, related to a public issue or issue of public interest.
- In other words, anti-SLAPP protects statements made in court or before another government body; statements in connection with court or government proceedings; and statements about matters of public interest.
What Issues Are of “Public Interest”?
There are a number of tests for evaluating the “public interest prong,” but here are a few general examples:
- People or organizations in the public eye;
- Issues directly affecting a large number of people; and
- A topic of widespread interest.
As a general rule, anything that people find interesting is likely to be a matter of public interest.
It’s also worth noting that the issue need not be of interest to the general public, but to a definable group of people.