|January 30, 2015 04:13 PM
|Senator Lawrence M. Farnese, Jr.
|All Senate members
|In the near future, I plan to reintroduce legislation that would address so-called “SLAPP” lawsuits in Pennsylvania.
The Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SLAPPs in April 2014. Citizens, community groups and other stakeholders from across Pennsylvania testified to the very tangible effects SLAPPs can have on the emotional, mental and financial health of individuals and organizations. You can watch video and read testimony here: http://judiciary.pasenategop.com/2014/04/21/senate-bill-1095-slapp-suits/.
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 attorneys 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 lawsuits via a motion to dismiss. If the motion is successful, defendants may recover attorney fees, costs and damages, related to a civil action taken against an individual or group of individuals for communications protected under the act. The legislation would also provide protections for a non-moving party should the party who made a motion to dismiss have done so frivolously or with the sole intent to have caused unnecessary delay to the process. Attorney fees, costs and damages would be recoverable if the latter has been determined.
This proposed legislation was spurred by circumstances that 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. This and many other examples in Pennsylvania shed light on the insidious fact that any claim, even when withdrawn, can do harm. However, my legislation attempts to strike a balance between the importance of speech related to issues of public interest while also ensuring relief for victims of legitimate torts.
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 attorney fees and costs of litigation for a person who successfully defends against an action under Chapter 83 (27 Pa. Cons. Stat. §7707).
My legislation will go a long way to curb frivolous lawsuits against our citizens, a very real problem across our Commonwealth. I hope you will take the time to read some of the compelling testimony from those individuals and groups who have been embroiled in SLAPP suits for years so you can understand the tolls such suits have had on citizens both in and outside of my district.
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my chief of staff, Sally Keaveney, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for your consideration.
Introduced as SB95