Strengthen Maryland’s Anti-SLAPP law
Protecting free speech and public participation
Civic engagement is critical to our democracy. The threat of frivolous lawsuits, designed to cut short a citizen’s right to free speech and public participation, create a chilling effect in public debate. These lawsuits are known as SLAPP suits (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). This is an issue for many citizens, from environmental and community activists to journalists, as well as businesses that rely on reviewers, like Yelp and Trip Advisor.
SLAPPs stifle public debate, threaten news reporting and diminish civic engagement. SLAPPs, or fear of SLAPPs, may discourage citizens from speaking out about important issues. From a business and public health perspective, this fear may discourage users from posting negative reviews on e-commerce websites, sharing critical feedback on social media, or candidly reviewing a health-care provider online. Over time, the absence of these critical voices may create significant gaps in the accuracy and completeness of the public data sets used by businesses, researchers, and government officials. (Daniel Castro, “The Rise of Data Poverty in America,” The Center for Data Innovation, September 10, 2014)
This issue is especially important to members of the press because informing and engaging the public can leave publications vulnerable to frivolous lawsuits. As businesses, our members cannot absorb large litigation costs. The fee-shifting provisions of this legislation, especially, will deter meritless suits. These suits take time, money and energy away from reporting the news.
House Bill 263 strengthens Maryland’s anti-SLAPP law and supports Marylander’s right of free speech. It:
- Clarifies the definition of a SLAPP suit
- Provides a stay of discovery while the SLAPP motion is adjudicated
- Clarifies dismissal proceedings.
- Shifts attorney fees to plaintiff if case is dismissed on anti-SLAPP grounds
- Leaves intact the ability to appeal ruling
- Strengthens appellate oversight of SLAPP rulings
As of March 8, HB 263 passed favorably out of commitee, heavily amended. The bill now focuses only on the definition of a SLAPP suit.
Trump admission of malicious reasons for suing a reporter reminds us why we need anti-SLAPP statutes, Public Citizen blog, March 9, 2016