|Posted:||January 6, 2017 10:41 AM|
|From:||Representative Ryan A. Bizzarro|
|To:||All House members|
|In the near future, I plan to introduce companion legislation to Senator Farnese’s Senate Bill 95 from last session which would address SLAPP lawsuits in Pennsylvania. This bill passed the Senate 48-1 last session, and he plans to reintroduce his bill during the current legislative session as well.
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 the suit, the true purpose of a SLAPP is to deter or silence critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense. Defendants and others are deterred from engaging in open debate about public issues for fear that they could face one of these suits and end up paying attorney’s fees and expending significant time and resources to defend against a meritless suit.
This bill was first introduced after the Old City Civic Association, a 40-year-running community organization, was forced to shut its doors due to its inability to obtain insurance because of several SLAPP lawsuits. Then, in April 2014, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SLAPPs. The hearing made clear that there are victims of SLAPPs across the Commonwealth, who have suffered the heavy emotional, mental and financial effects of these lawsuits. That is why I am joining the efforts to pass legislation which we strongly believe will protect citizens and citizen groups from frivolous lawsuits, thus allowing their voices to be heard.
Specifically, the legislation would create a process to quickly dismiss SLAPP lawsuits based upon constitutionally protected speech through a motion to dismiss. If the motion is successful, defendants may recover attorney fees, costs and damages related to the action. There is also a SLAPP back provision, so if a party invokes a SLAPP motion frivolously or solely to cause unnecessary delay, the court will award attorney’s fees and costs to the non-moving party.
Twenty-eight states and Guam have some form of anti-SLAPP protections on the 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). It is time that we expand our SLAPP laws to more adequately protect our constituents against frivolous litigation.
Please join me in co-sponsoring this important legislation.
Introduced as HB95