|Posted:||December 1, 2020 02:55 PM|
|From:||Senator Katie J. Muth and Sen. Maria Collett|
|To:||All Senate members|
|In the near future, we plan to reintroduce legislation that would address SLAPP lawsuits in Pennsylvania. This legislation was previously introduced as SB95 during the 2019-2020 session by Senator Farnese and Senator Argall.
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 SLAPPs 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 claim.
This legislation was first introduced after the Old City Civic Association in Philadelphia, a 40-year-running community organization, was forced to shut its doors due to its inability to obtain insurance because of several SLAPP lawsuits. After the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on SLAPPs in April 2014, it became clear that there were victims of SLAPPs across the Commonwealth. Citizens, community groups and other stakeholders testified to the insurmountable emotional, mental and financial effects SLAPPs can have on individuals and organizations. You can watch video and read testimony here.
In addition, there is a fear that SLAPPs may be used to devastate the #MeToo movement, as those victimized by sexual harassment may face the prospect of these suits being used as a way for harassers to shield disclosure.
This legislation will give individuals and organizations across the Commonwealth the incentive and the tools to fight back against these frivolous suits and continue their good work. Specifically, our legislation would create a process to quickly dismiss SLAPP lawsuits based upon protected speech through a motion to dismiss. If the motion is successful, defendants may recover attorney’s 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.
Thirty 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). It is time that we expand our SLAPP laws to more adequately protect our constituents against frivolous litigation.
Senate Bill 95 passed the Senate during the 2015-16 and 2017-17 legislative sessions with overwhelming bipartisan support. Last session's co-sponsors included Senators Brewster, Fontana, Mensch, Costa, Hughes, Haywood, Blake, Boscola, Yudichak, Browne, Tartaglione, Kearney and Sabatina.
Please join us in co-sponsoring this important legislation.