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Measure to Help Organizations, People SLAPP Back at Frivolous Lawsuits Clears Senate, Farnese Reports
On June 30, 2015
HARRISBURG, June 30, 2015 – A long-awaited measure that would enable the courts to decide if a lawsuit has been filed against an individual or an organization for the sole purpose of stifling free speech cleared the Senate today.
State Sen. Larry Farnese’s Senate Bill 95 cleared the chamber on a 48 to 1 vote and moves to the House where it is expected to be considered this fall.
SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation and it would set up a motion to dismiss that would allow for an expedited response in the courts to quickly determine if the lawsuit is frivolous, or a SLAPP.
“Had my anti-SLAPP measure been the law of the commonwealth in 2013, the Old City Civic Association, a stalwart for good citizenship and community spirit, would not have had to close because a frivolous and expensive lawsuit threatened them,” Farnese said.
“Community and civic groups in my district asked me to do whatever I could to prevent this from happening again. Today, I want them to know that I hear them and we are one step closer to accomplishing that goal.
“No person or organization should be taken to court by someone just because their pockets are deeper than the defendant’s. That’s not what our judicial system is about and it’s not what it will be once my bill is signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf,” he said.
SB 95 would provide immunity from civil action when a person has engaged in protected communication.
A hearing on a motion to dismiss must be held within 30 days of its filing. If a judge agrees with that motion, Sen. Farnese’s proposal requires the recovery of attorney fees and costs if the moving party prevails. Awarded damages would be a minimum of $10,000.
Farnese’s proposal includes a “SLAPP-back” provision that allows the court to award costs and attorneys’ fees to the non-moving party if a motion to dismiss has been used frivolously, which ensures that both parties are protected from frivolous lawsuits.
“Pennsylvania is a free and open society and its people and organizations must not be quieted because they have used their First Amendment rights to speak up or speak out,” Farnese said. “SB 95 strikes an important balance between protecting speech related to issues of public interest and providing relief for victims of legitimate torts.
“It is my hope that debates on issues of public concern can flourish across the commonwealth, without fear of being silenced by frivolous litigation,” he said.
Farnese proposed a similar measure during the 2013-2014 legislative session.
Twenty-seven states have some form of anti-SLAPP protections.
Pennsylvania established limited protections from SLAPP lawsuits in 2000, but only in the narrow area of environmental law and regulations.