DC Appeals Court Says Anti-SLAPP Laws Shouldn't Apply In Federal Courts

from the ruh-roh dept

We’ve discussed for quite some time the importance of anti-SLAPP laws, and how it’s ridiculous that we don’t have a federal anti-SLAPP law. Once again, anti-SLAPP laws are used to toss out bogus lawsuits that were clearly filed for the sake of silencing someone’s speech (SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation”). Right now only some states have them, and there are many variations in the various state laws, with some much better than others. Unfortunately, a new ruling in the DC Circuit appeals court may makestate anti-SLAPP laws much less effective. That’s because it says, more or less, that state anti-SLAPP laws only apply to cases in state/local courts, and not those that are in federal court (such as any case between two parties in different states).

Under the Federal Rules, a plaintiff is generally entitled to trial if he or she meets the Rules 12 and 56 standards to overcome a motion to dismiss or for summary judgment. But the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act nullifies that entitlement in certain cases. Under the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act, the plaintiff is not able to get to trial just by meeting those Rules 12 and 56 standards. The D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act, in other words, conflicts with the Federal Rules by setting up an additional hurdle a plaintiff must jump over to get to trial.

In other words, in the DC Circuit, this finding says that as long as the dispute is between two parties in different jurisdictions, the anti-SLAPP law is basically toothless. Its reasoning is that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure list out the processes under which a court can dismiss a claim before a trial, and it doesn’t include the same process as the anti-SLAPP process. And thus, the Federal Rules effectively overrule any local anti-SLAPP law in federal court.

As Paul Levy notes in the link above, this finding goes against findings in the First, Fifth and Ninth Circuits and creates a circuit split that he hopes will be appealed to the Supreme Court (even though the appeals court eventually did dismiss the case on other grounds).

Either way, this really (once again) reinforces the absolute need for a strong federal anti-SLAPP law. Not only would it solve messes like this, but it would protect free speech rights across the country, rather than allowing some states to protect them, while others allow people to be silenced via bogus lawsuits.

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Comments on “DC Appeals Court Says Anti-SLAPP Laws Shouldn't Apply In Federal Courts”

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13 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Seems like a no-brainer for an up and coming congressperson

Money, pools of money, coming from those that rather like the system as it currently stands. Not to mention I’m sure more than a few of them, either directly or through friends, quite like the idea of being able to silence pesky people with frivolous lawsuits, so why would they want to take that ability away?

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Hate to say. I think I agree with this ruling. As someone who almost faced a SLAPP lawsuit (I wasn’t the person they even wanted to sue, but I wasn’t going to admit that because I wanted to have them explain to a judge how they determined I was the one running the website), the lack of an anti-SLAPP law in Nevada at that time (it wouldn’t become law until a year later) was a nightmare for me. But I agree that they probably should apply to federal cases. And I agree with Mike, this only highlights the need for a Federal Anti-SLAPP law to protect 1st amendment speech

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Interpretation

Not quite. If I understood Ken’s write-up on the case correctly, the matter is more a procedural one, where the DC judges found that anti-SLAPP laws in this case were ‘redundant’ when considering other laws regarding how and when you can ask for a case to be dismissed.

On the one hand, I can sorta see their point, but at the same time, the entire point of anti-SLAPP laws is to defang the threat of a lawsuit when using it to threaten or retaliate against someone, something which regular procedure with regards to the how and when when it comes to lawsuits lack(which are the entire purpose SLAPP lawsuits are so effective, because even if they are completely bogus, ‘regular’ rules don’t allow someone to get out from under them without paying dearly in the process).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Sadly, the judge is doing this right. The lack of a federal anti-SLAPP law is problematic for exactly this reason: federal law, where it applies, trumps local law. To do it any other way would invite chaos. So, federal law lacks anti-SLAPP laws? The judge has no choice but to apply the non-anti-SLAPP federal law over the local law.

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