What is a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP)?
The United States and California Constitutions grant every person petition and free speech rights to participate in government and civic affairs, speak freely on public issues and issues of public interest, and petition government officials for redress of grievances. Yet, every year, thousands of individuals, community groups, and organizations are sued for exercising these constitutional rights. These suits are known as “SLAPPs” — Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation.
Protected speech and expression on issues of public interest may include:
* Posting a review on the Internet
* Writing a letter to the editor
* Circulating a petition
* Calling or writing to a public official
* Reporting police misconduct
* Erecting a sign or displaying a banner on their property
* Making comments to school officials
* Speaking at a public meeting
* Filing a public interest lawsuit
* Testifying before Congress, the state legislature, or a city council.
SLAPPs are civil complaints or counterclaims (against either an individual or an organization) in which the alleged injury was the result of petitioning or free speech activities protected by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and by the California Constitution. SLAPPs are often brought by corporations, real estate developers, or government officials and entities against individuals or organizations who oppose them on public issues. Typically, SLAPPs are based on ordinary civil tort claims such as defamation (libel or slander), malicious prosecution, abuse of power, conspiracy, and interference with prospective economic advantage.
While most SLAPPs are legally meritless, they can effectively achieve their principal purpose: to chill public debate on specific issues. Defending a SLAPP requires substantial money, time, and legal resources, and thus diverts the defendant’s attention away from the public issue. Equally important, however, a SLAPP also sends a message to others: you, too, can be sued if you speak up.
If you have not yet been SLAPPed, but have been threatened with a lawsuit, you can find more information in CASP’s blog post, “What to Do When You Receive a Threat Letter.”
If you have been SLAPPed, you can learn more about the typical stages of the SLAPP suit in CASP’s blog post, “Stages of a SLAPP Suit.”
For a comprehensive background on SLAPPs, see the book SLAPPs: Getting Sued for Speaking Out, by George Pring and Penelope Canan.
The information on this website is not, nor is it intended to be, legal advice. The information here is meant to provide general information to the public.