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Senate of Pennsylvania
Session of 2013 - 2014 Regular Session

MEMORANDUM

Posted: May 17, 2013 11:21 AM
From: Senator Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr.
To: All Senate members
Subject: Anti-SLAPP Legislation
 
In the near future, I plan to introduce legislation that would address so-called “SLAPP” lawsuits in Pennsylvania.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, are lawsuits filed against a person or organization for statements made or positions taken in connection with a matter of public interest or regulation. Some of the legal theories often used in SLAPP lawsuits are defamation, invasion of privacy, nuisance, malicious prosecution or abuse of process, conspiracy, intentional infliction of emotional distress and interference with contract or economic advantage. Despite the legal theories supporting a lawsuit, the true purpose of a SLAPP is to deter or silence critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense.

While most SLAPPs are not legally successful, they create a chilling effect, deterring open debate about public issues by the defendants of a SLAPP, as well as others who become fearful of becoming involved in issues of public concern. The cost of defending a SLAPP, with respect to attorney's fees, time and resources, is many times too burdensome for an individual or organization to want to chance speaking out and facing a lawsuit in the future.

My legislation would provide defenses to quickly dismiss SLAPP-type lawsuits, as well as possible recovery of attorney’s fees, for legitimate civic and community organizations that take positions or make statements in connection with an issue before a government body or official proceeding, or in a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest.

This proposed legislation is spurred by circumstances that recently faced a well-respected civic association in my district. Due to the increasing threat of lawsuits, the costs of insurance became prohibitive and the group disbanded after 40 years in existence.

Twenty-seven states and the Territory of Guam have some form of anti-SLAPP protections on their books. Pennsylvania established limited protections from SLAPP lawsuits in 2000, but only in the narrow area of environmental law and regulations (27 Pa. Cons. Stat. Chapter 83). That legislation also allowed for the award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs of litigation for a person who successfully defends against an action under Chapter 83 (27 Pa. Cons. Stat. §7707).

I believe that our First Amendment right to free speech, particularly when addressing issues before our bodies of government, is paramount. I hope you will join me in supporting an expansion of anti-SLAPP legislation in Pennsylvania by co-sponsoring this bill.

If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my legislative director, Sally Keaveney, at skeaveney@pasenate.com.


Introduced as SB1095