Understanding Anti-SLAPP Laws

by LegalFix
Posted: December 1, 2022
Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

In the legal world, a SLAPP refers to a lawsuit brought against an individual or group as a way of preventing them from voicing concerns or petitioning the government. The term SLAPP was coined by George Pring and Penelope Canan in Professor Pring’s 1989 paper, “SLAPPs: Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.” Since then, SLAPPs have gained much negative media attention, and a number of states have passed anti-SLAPP laws protecting citizens from lawsuits of this type.

How Do SLAPP Lawsuits Work?

In most cases of SLAPPs, a large company or organization will file a lawsuit against an entity that has publicly criticized them or called for scrutiny or regulation around their practices. Types of activities that can draw a SLAPP include (but are by no means limited to) speaking at public meetings, reporting violations to the government, testifying before Congress or state legislatures, or engaging in any form of public protest, such as posting signs drawing attention to issues the critics/defendants see as concerning. 

Unlike legitimate civil lawsuits where an entity files suit against a person or group for damaging their reputation with false claims (defamation), SLAPPs are largely considered to be without legal merit. Instead, they are intended to force the person being sued to spend time and money defending themselves in court as a way of punishing them for speaking out. 

 While this may sound manipulative and mean-spirited on the surface, the potential legal ramifications go far beyond that. According to a number of state laws (based on rulings in SLAPP-like cases), baseless lawsuits like these are a violation of the critic’s/defendant’s First Amendment rights.

 According to the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, individuals have the right to “petition the government for a redress of grievances.” This includes any complaint against a government agency made in the public (or private) interest, so if a government agency were to file a SLAPP against someone who complained about them, that agency or representative would be violating the complainant’s rights under the First Amendment.  

 Because of this potential, anti-SLAPP laws have been enacted by state legislatures and are designed to prevent any person or organization from misusing courts to threaten people who are exercising their First Amendment rights. 

Why Are SLAPP Suits Filed?As we mentioned earlier, SLAPPs are primarily used to punish or discourage people or groups from speaking out against an organization. For example, companies, institutions, and government agencies facing actual or potential public backlash for their actions often resort to SLAPP litigation.

Although their SLAPP claims are almost always thrown out in the end, the time and legal fees associated with fighting these lawsuits are often crippling for the individuals being targeted. This is especially true when the person or group being targeted does not have pro bono representation options available to them.

Large organizations that can afford to hire a legal team see the cost of filing and losing a case as a small expense when compared to the amount of money they can save by avoiding negative publicity. But the SLAPP defendants they seek to silence often can’t afford the cost of defending themselves. These defendants may be forced to drop or forgo their demands, unable to continue petitioning the company, institution, or government agency due to the time and financial cost of litigation. 

Anti-SLAPP Countersuits or Motions to Dismiss

As an additional protection for individuals and whistleblowers, many states have established laws allowing those on the receiving end of a SLAPP to countersue or seek early dismissal of the lawsuit. As of this year, 32 states — including New York, Florida, and Texas — have anti-SLAPP laws, as well as the District of Columbia. 

For the most part, anti-SLAPP laws are broad enough to protect individuals or news outlets against attempts to silence or retaliate against them, but the specifics of the laws vary from state to state. Anti-SLAPP plaintiffs are required to prove that the claims against them in the SLAPP were a sham and that no defamation, violation of privacy, or any other damages occurred. 

These anti-SLAPP plaintiffs are often successful with their counterclaim or motion to dismiss, but even so, successfully prosecuting a counterclaim or motion to dismiss takes time and resources. 

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It can be daunting to file an anti-SLAPP claim on your own, and the advice and services of an experienced attorney are invaluable. Whether you want to better understand your right to free speech or want to learn about any other laws, LegalFix is your go-to source for free legal information. You can find helpful articles and use the free search and information tools to better understand the state and federal laws that affect you. Just visit to find all this content — and check back often for more valuable legal products and services coming soon.