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.