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Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation

Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation


What is a Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation?

The term is often referred to as a SLAPP and these cases are meant to silence critics with the threat and cost of a lawsuit.  The most common types of SLAPPs are defamation cases or business interference tort suits, but SLAPPs have been used in other cases like those involving civil rights, antitrust, and intellectual property. 

At their core, SLAPPs are cases involving free speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The plaintiff filing the SLAPP does not necessarily intend to win the case.  Instead, the plaintiff usually intends to threaten or intimidate the defendant who tried to release censored material in the first place.  Defendants are sometimes intimidated because SLAPPs can involve years of litigation and amount to huge court costs.  If the defendant loses the case, they are responsible for the court costs. 

Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation: Federal vs. State Law

There is no federal law against SLAPPs.  However, some states do offer statutory protection against SLAPPs.  The following states have statutory protection: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.   

Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation: Important Cases

The following Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation cases went to the Supreme Court:

Browne v. Avvo, Inc., Case No. C07-0920RSL (W.D. Wa. Dec. 2007)

This case occurred in 2007 when a group of attorneys sued the attorney-rating website called Avvo.  They disagreed with the numerical rating they received from the website and argued that the ratings were based on non-verified facts.  The court agreed.  Avvo was protected from liability concerning statements posted users, but some of these messages contained negative and misleading comments about attorneys.  Many of the attorneys went after these users who posted negative comments, and the attorneys inadvertently lowered their rating on the website as a result. 

Texas Beef Group v. Winfrey, 201 F.3d 680 (2000)

This case when Oprah Winfrey was sued by Texas cattle ranchers in 1996.  She ran a show called “Dangerous Food” where she talked about mad cow disease and stated she would never eat another hamburger again.  The Texas ranchers claimed they suffered over $12 million in damages and filed a SLAPP against Winfrey.  Winfrey fought the case and the court eventually ruled in her favor. 

Alzugaray v. Survivors Network for Those Abused by Priests, Los Angeles County Super. Ct. No. BC311107

This was a famous case that occurred in 2003 that was filed against an attorney.  A girl named Erin Brady sued a Catholic priest for molesting her, and her attorney gave answered questions in an interview published in the Los Angeles Time

The accused priest then sued Brady, Ray Boucher and his law firm, Kiesel, Boucher & Larson for libel and slander because of statements during the interview and published material.  Boucher eventually filed motions according to the California anti-SLAPP law and the court ruled in Boucher’s favor.