DC Anti-Slapp Statute Effective Today

The “Anti-SLAPP Act of 2010,” which was signed by Mayor Vincent Gray on January 19, 2011, became effective today.

Its legislative history explains that the statute:

“incorporates substantive rights with regard to a defendant’s ability to fend off lawsuits filed by one side of a political or public policy debate aimed to punish or prevent the expression of opposing points of view.  Such lawsuits, often referred to as strategic lawsuits against public participation — or SLAPPs — have been increasingly utilized over the past two decades as a means to muzzle speech or efforts to petition the government on issues of public interest.  Such cases are often without merit, but achieve their filer’s intention of punishing or preventing opposing points of view, resulting in a chilling effect on the exercise of constitutionally protected rights.  Further, defendants of a SLAPP must dedicate a substantial amount of money, time, and legal resources.  The impact is not limited to named defendants willingness to speak out, but prevents others from voicing concerns as well.”

As enacted, the DC anti-SLAPP statute allows a party to file a special motion to dismiss any claim arising from an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest within 45 days after service of the claim.  § 16-5502(a).

The filing of the special motion to dismiss stays discovery unless the court finds, and orders, that targeted discovery will enable the plaintiff to defeat the motion and that discovery would not be unduly burdensome.  DC Code § 16-5502(c).  The order may be conditioned on the plaintiff paying any expenses incurred by the defendant in responding to such discovery.  Id.

If the party filing a special motion to dismiss under § 16-5502 makes a prima facie showing that the claim at issue arises from an act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest, then the motion shall be granted unless the responding party demonstrates that the claim is likely to succeed on the merits, in which case the motion shall be denied.  DC Code § 16-5502(b).

The statute defines “act in furtherance of the right of advocacy on issues of public interest” to mean:

(A) Any written or oral statement made:

(i) In connection with an issue under consideration or review by a legislative, executive, or judicial body, or any other official proceeding authorized by law; or

(ii) In a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; or

(B) Any other expression or expressive conduct that involves petitioning the government or communicating views to members of the public in connection with an issue of public interest.  DC Code § 16-5501(1).

The same code section defines “issue of public interest” to mean “an issue related to health or safety; environmental, economic, or community well-being; the District government; a public figure; or a good, product, or service in the market place. The term “issue of public interest” shall not be construed to include private interests, such as statements directed primarily toward protecting the speaker’s commercial interests rather than toward commenting on or sharing information about a matter of public significance.  DC Code § 16-5501(3).

The court shall hold an expedited hearing on the special motion to dismiss, and issue a ruling as soon as practicable after the hearing. If the special motion to dismiss is granted, dismissal shall be with prejudice.  DC Code § 16-5502(d).  If the party filing a special motion to dismiss prevails, the court may award the costs of litigation, including reasonable attorney fees.  DC Code 16-5504(a).  If the motion is denied, the court may award reasonable attorney fees and costs to the responding party only if it finds that the motion was frivolous or is solely intended to cause unnecessary delay.  Id. at § 16-5504(b).

Leslie Machado

About: Leslie Machado

Mr. Machado counsels and advises a diverse range of clients on various areas of law. He is also an experienced litigator, having tried cases to verdict in state and federal courts. View all posts by Leslie Machado
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