Today, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments concerning legal questions around Washington’s anti-SLAPP statutes.
SLAPP stands for “strategic lawsuits against public participation.” The anti-SLAPP statutes in question provide a defense to those who are sued for exercising their constitutional rights to free speech and petition. However, they can create a potential pitfall for plaintiffs and their lawyers.
Washington adopted what has been described as the first modern anti-SLAPP law in 1989. The law generally confers immunity for communicating a complaint or information to a government agency or organization and provides a remedy with the right to recover attorney fees and costs.
A second anti-SLAPP statute, which was adopted in 2010, is the focus of the recent activity. In short, it allows a party to a purported SLAPP suit to bring a special motion to strike any claim that is based on an action involving public participation and petition. Under this, the plaintiff has the burden to show that the claim is based on “public participation and petition.” If the moving party satisfies this burden, then the burden shifts to the defendant to establish higher proof.
Anti-SLAPP laws have been enacted in several states to discourage this bullying behavior, including Washington.
WASH. REV. CODE §§ RCW 4.24.500-525 (2010)
Under Washington State’s anti-SLAPP law, revised in 2010, direct petitioning activity as well as “any lawful conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of free speech” that are related to issues of public concern are protected. The law provides for early special motions to strike which require SLAPP plaintiffs to demonstrate, at the outset of litigation, that they can establish the required elements of their case with convincing clarity. If the plaintiff is unable to do so, the case is dismissed. All discovery and any pending hearings or motions are suspended until the court rules on the motion. A defendant who prevails on a special motion to strike is entitled to a fine of $10,000, reasonable attorneys’ fees, and the costs of litigation. A frivolous motion to strike is subject to similar sanctions. Under the law, either party has the right to seek an expedited appeal to a higher court if a court fails to promptly rule on a motion to dismiss.
Today, you can watch our Amicus Co-Coordinator George Ahrend argue in front of the Washington Supreme Court in James Dillon v. Seattle Deposition Reporters, LLC, et al. on TVW, concerning these laws. The oral arguments will be broadcast beginning at 2:30. If you’re watching locally, they will be on Channel 23 on Comcast. You can read the WSAJ Amicus brief online.