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Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

When people speak publicly to criticize persons or businesses, the persons or businesses criticized sometimes respond by filing a lawsuit for defamation, libel, disparagement, or another tort (wrongful act). These lawsuits are often directly or indirectly intended to intimidate and silence critics—and to discourage others from making critical statements—by punishing the speaker with the cost and burden of defending a lawsuit. These retaliatory and speech-chilling lawsuits are known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).

To combat SLAPP lawsuits, many state legislatures have enacted laws (statutes) designed to protect citizens who petition their government or speak on matters of public concern from retaliatory lawsuits that seek to intimidate or silence them. The statutory protection consists of a special motion for expedited consideration of any suit that appears to stifle the defendant’s communication on a matter of public concern.

The purpose of these anti-SLAPP laws is to identify and quickly dispose of lawsuits that seek to chill the First Amendment rights of freedom of speech and freedom of association—not to dismiss legitimate lawsuits with merit. To accomplish its purpose, anti-SLAPP statutes usually include an expedited process in which the judge must review the pleadings—the plaintiff’s complaint or petition and the defendant’s answer—and a limited amount of evidence within a short time after the lawsuit is filed, and determine whether the lawsuit should be dismissed.

Anti-SLAPP statutes vary from state to state, but often include provisions that allow or require a defendant who successfully moves for the dismissal of a SLAPP lawsuit to recover attorney fees, costs of court, and expenses from the plaintiff.

In Texas, the Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA) serves as the state's anti-SLAPP statute, designed to protect individuals from retaliatory lawsuits that aim to intimidate or silence them on matters of public concern. The TCPA allows defendants to file a motion to dismiss such lawsuits quickly. This motion requires the court to decide on an expedited basis whether the legal action is based on, relates to, or is in response to the defendant's exercise of the right to free speech, petition, or association. If the court finds that the lawsuit is indeed a SLAPP, it can be dismissed early in the litigation process. Additionally, the TCPA provides that a defendant who prevails on a motion to dismiss under this statute is entitled to recover attorney fees, court costs, and other expenses from the plaintiff. The purpose of the TCPA is not to dismiss all lawsuits, but rather to eliminate those that are filed with the intent to suppress the exercise of First Amendment rights without a legitimate legal basis.

Legal articles related to this topic

Understanding Anti-SLAPP Laws
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.