California’s anti-SLAPP Statute

California’s anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) statute is a law that aims to safeguard individuals’ right to free speech and participation in matters of public concern. SLAPP lawsuits are often filed with the intention of intimidating or silencing critics by burdening them with costly and time-consuming litigation. The California anti-SLAPP statute, codified under Code of Civil Procedure Section 425.16, provides a mechanism for defendants to seek the early dismissal of meritless lawsuits that target their exercise of free speech rights. It allows defendants to file a special motion to strike the complaint, typically at an early stage of the litigation process. Key aspects of the anti-SLAPP statute include …

Protected Activity: The anti-SLAPP statute applies to claims based on the defendant’s exercise of their rights to free speech, petition, or participation in matters of public interest or concern. This can include actions such as public statements, online postings, letters to government officials, and participation in public meetings.

Motion to Strike: Once a defendant has been sued, they can file a special motion to strike the complaint under the anti-SLAPP statute. The motion asserts that the lawsuit targets protected activity and lacks merit. If successful, the court will dismiss the claims or causes of action that are subject to the motion.

Burden of Proof: To prevail on an anti-SLAPP motion, the defendant must demonstrate that the lawsuit arises from protected activity. If the defendant meets this initial burden, the burden then shifts to the plaintiff to establish a probability of prevailing on the claims. This higher standard requires the plaintiff to show that their claims have merit.

Stay of Discovery: Once an anti-SLAPP motion is filed, the discovery process in the lawsuit is typically stayed until the motion is resolved. This prevents the plaintiff from engaging in burdensome and expensive discovery while the motion is pending.

Attorney’s Fees and Costs: If the defendant successfully prevails on an anti-SLAPP motion, they may be entitled to recover their attorney’s fees and costs incurred in defending against the meritless lawsuit. This provision aims to discourage the filing of frivolous claims that infringe on free speech rights.

The anti-SLAPP statute in California is designed to provide a powerful tool for defendants to swiftly dismiss lawsuits that seek to stifle their exercise of free speech rights. It encourages the protection of robust public discourse and the right to participate in matters of public interest without fear of retaliation through legal harassment.