|Posted:||January 2, 2019 11:13 AM|
|From:||Representative Russ Diamond|
|To:||All House members|
|Subject:||Free Speech Protection Act (anti-SLAPP legislation)|
|In the near future I plan to introduce the Free Speech Protection Act, aimed at preventing our court system from being abused by powerful actors who seek to bully Pennsylvanians into refraining from exercising their First Amendment rights. Specifically, this legislation would add a provision to Title 42 to allow for a swift motion to dismiss a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation).
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 cited 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.
While all serve as valid reasons for legitimate litigation, in practice the true purpose of a SLAPP is to chill free speech and to deter or silence critics by burdening them with mounting a legal defense requiring the significant expenditure of time and financial resources, when the plaintiff knows they cannot prevail on the merits.
The Free Speech Protection Act creates a process to quickly dismiss SLAPPs against constitutionally protected speech through a special motion to dismiss. If successful, the moving party may recover attorney fees, costs and damages related to the SLAPP. The legislation is balanced, in that it also includes a “SLAPP back” provision: If a defendant is found to have filed a SLAPP motion frivolously or merely as a delay tactic, the court can award attorney’s fees and costs to the plaintiff. As such, this legislation will not deter sincere plaintiffs with genuine grievances from petitioning our courts.
Anti-SLAPP legislation has wide appeal and does not break down along political or ideological lines. Several other states – including Texas and California – have broad anti-SLAPP statutes. In 2000, Pennsylvania established limited protections from SLAPPs, but only in the narrow area of environmental law (Title 27 Chapter 83).
Similar legislation passed the Senate in 2015-16 by a 48-1 vote, and again in 2017-18 by a 42-8 vote. We’ve updated that legislation to account for recent IRS rule changes regarding the deductibility of legal fees under miscellaneous itemized deductions.
Pennsylvania – the Cradle of Liberty and the Birthplace of Independence – must set the highest standard in the nation when it comes to protecting First Amendment rights. The Free Speech Protection Act will go far in accomplishing that.
I urge you to join me in cosponsoring this legislation.
Introduced as HB95