FAQ: Understanding SLAPP and Anti-SLAPP Laws

legal research websitesIf you’ve ever been in a courtroom, or if you are just addicted to legal television shows and courtroom dramas, you may have heard the term anti-SLAPP. SLAPP laws, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, are exactly what they sound like — lawsuits designed not to right a wrong, but to intimidate or suppress public action, usually speech. Because corporations usually have the financial resources to fund lawsuits and pay endless legal fees, simply filing a lawsuit against an ordinary citizen is enough to silence them.

Looking for more information on SLAPP lawsuits and anti-SLAPP laws? Legal research websites such as Legislative Intent help attorneys locate legislative history on a wide variety of topics, including anti-SLAPP laws. Keep reading for answers to some of the most common questions about these controversial legal issues.

What Are SLAPPs Used For?
SLAPPs are often used to silence the critics of businesses, often during disputes over environmental or land development issues. Usually, the filers don’t even to take the defendant to court to seek justice; rather, they want to drain the financial resources of their adversaries. As a result, many defendants on the receiving end of a SLAPP either promise to keep quiet or apologize and delete previous hostile statements. In short, SLAPPs can be a serious threat to free speech, and states like California have passed anti-SLAPP laws to protect citizens from the whims of corporations.

What Is an Example of a SLAPP Lawsuit?
In the digital era, it’s never been easier for dissatisfied customers to leave negative reviews about businesses online. In response, some business owners have responded to legitimate customer complaints, not with improved customer service, but with lawsuits. Often, it’s easier to delete the negative review than to hire a lawyer and risk massive legal fees, fines, and worse.

Another common example of SLAPPs occurs when a patient complains about a healthcare professional. Typically, these lawsuits come from negative consumer reviews about a dentist office, doctor’s office, lawyers, and other medical professionals. If a patient was not satisfied with the service they received from the medical professional, they may post their review on a site like Yelp or CitySearch. At this point, the professional will claim the review constitutes defamation.

What Are Anti-SLAPP Laws?
Since we now understand what a SLAPP law is, it’s time to talk about anti-SLAPP laws. These laws are meant to protect citizens, journalists, government workers, and others who are exercising their right to free speech. According to the Reporters Committee for Freedome of the Press, anti-SLAPP laws provide a vital remedy to intimidating, and expensive, lawsuits:

An “anti-SLAPP” law is meant to provide a remedy from SLAPP suits. Under most such statutes, the person sued makes a motion to strike the case because it involves speech on a matter of public concern. The plaintiff then has the burden of showing a probability that they will prevail in the suit — meaning they must make more than allegations of harm and actually show that they have evidence that can result in a verdict in their favor. If the defendant prevails on the motion, many of the statutes allow them to collect reasonable attorney’s fees from the plaintiff.

Have you ever found yourself dealing with a SLAPP? Are you scouring legal research websites for the legislative history of anti-SLAPP laws? It’s been more than 200 years since the Constitution was created, but freedom of speech is still under threat. Legal research websites like Legislative Intent can help give you the answers and case history you need to better understand these complex issues.

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