Before the passage of anti-SLAPP legislation, citizens engaged in First Amendment petitioning activity often found themselves the targets of retaliatory lawsuits. For example, a group of neighbors might speak out at a local zoning commission hearing to block approval for a new building development, only to find themselves defending against a costly lawsuit brought by the developer for, among other things, defamation or commercial disparagement.
This December will mark the 20th anniversary of the Massachusetts anti-SLAPP statute, Chapter 231, Section 59H of the Massachusetts General Laws. The statute seeks to discourage retaliatory defamation lawsuits and similar claims by providing petitioners the opportunity to file a special motion to dismiss any claim that is based solely on their petitioning the government. A prevailing petitioner not only get the claims dismissed, but is are also entitled to attorneys’ fees.
Dave Kluft, co-editor of the Trademark and Copyright Law Blog, explores the origins, history and application of the anti-SLAPP statute in this summer’s edition of the Boston Bar Journal. Dave’s article, entitled, The Scalpel or the Bludgeon? Twenty Years of Anti-SLAPP in Massachusetts, is available here.