Anti-SLAPP Motions in California Litigations
An important tool available to defendants of lawsuits in California is an Anti-SLAPP motion. This important tool can be the means of defeating a lawsuit before it ever reaches trial, but it can only be used in limited circumstances.
To begin, understand what Anti-SLAPP means. Historically, SLAPP lawsuits are ‘strategic lawsuits against public participation.’ Throughout history, different parties have tried to use the court system to reduce others’ ability to participate in public discourse eliminating or severely restricting the rights protected under the First Amendment and California’s Constitution.
California Passes Anti-SLAPP Statute
Because of these legal strategies, over 20 years ago California enacted its Anti-SLAPP statute to prevent them from stifling freedom of speech. The statute can be found in Cal. Civ. Proc., § 425.16. Under its provisions, anytime a lawsuit interferes with a person’s right of petition or free speech under either the U.S. or California Constitutions, it can be dismissed.
Under the Anti-SLAPP statute, there are four specific categories of prohibited legal strategy. Meeting the elements of the four will cause the lawsuit to be dismissed for violation of the Anti-SLAPP laws. Those four categories are:
- Written or oral statements made in any official proceeding authorized by law;
- Statements made in connection to or referring to any issue then pending before the California legislature;
- Any statement made in a place open to the public or in a public forum in any issue of public interest; or
- All other conduct in to further the rights of free speech under the U.S. or California Constitutions, and which is in the public interest.
As you can see, the statements which could be applied vary, and have broad applications.
How the Anti-SLAPP Statute Works
In a typical case in which the defendant wishes to assert an Anti-SLAPP motion during litigation, it is done through motion practice. This is the procedural portion of a trial, and deals with what claims can go forward based on rules of procedure.
The way it works is that a defendant will motion to the court for dismissal of a claim or the suit, based on the Anti-SLAPP statute. At first the defendant must show to the court that the issue involves protected speech, and that the lawsuit is trying to stifle that speech. If the defendant can show that the claim has merit, then the burden shifts to the plaintiff.
Once the burden is on the plaintiff, he or she must show that that the lawsuit does not violate the defendant’s free speech and is properly before the court. The court will rule on the merits of each argument and either let the lawsuit proceed or dismiss it.
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