The claims made in SLAPP lawsuits can vary depending on the particulars of the case, but defamation cases are one common form. However, not every defamation suit is a SLAPP lawsuit.
What is a SLAPP?
When a person or business files a complaint or counterclaim against those who have spoken against them, it may constitute a SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit. In these suits, powerful people or entities like businesses make legal claims not to pursue a desired verdict but to intimidate the other party into silence or bleed their resources through lengthy legal proceedings.
SLAPP suits are often filed in response to an action taken by the other party. Some examples of these actions include:
- Writing a letter to the editor
- Distributing flyers, newsletters or petitions
- Making statements at public hearings or meetings of government bodies
- Filing a legal claim or lawsuit
- Making a formal complaint to a government agency
- Writing a negative review
Defamation is a common SLAPP charge.
While defamation is a common form of SLAPP lawsuit, not every defamation suit qualifies as a SLAPP. The SLAPP label only applies to lawsuits brought in retaliation against protected communications with government entities or bringing the public’s attention to an important issue. For example, a business might bring a defamation suit against someone who exercised their first amendment rights by expressing concerns about that business’s dealings in a letter to the editor. The court would consider this lawsuit a SLAPP if its primary goal was retaliating against the writer and silencing that criticism.
Because a SLAPP lawsuit often comes down to the court’s interpretation of one party’s motives, it can be particularly important for people facing these claims to have experienced legal guidance.