Few things impress me and inspire my revolutionary-era fervor more than an individual speaking up. By “speaking up”, I mean an individual rising in a public forum, before a governmental body or commission, and availing themselves of their right to be heard on a matter that is important to them.
The right to speak and the right to assemble are not just the bedrock of our Republic; they are the conglomerate that makes the concrete with which we continually build our City on the Hill.
Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, SLAPP, are legal actions filed by an individual or corporation to stop or intimidate an individual who has sought relief from a governmental body. In other words, the counterclaim to the lawsuit is that the plaintiff-business has sued the individual for purely political or strategic purposes.
These conflicts between businesses and an individual who is speaking up, are commonly seen in land use litigation where a neighboring property owner opposes development, but they can arise in any circumstance where there is a claimed violation of law, local regulations or ordinances.
The Connecticut legislature has amended our anti-SLAPP law to provide a fast-track motion to dismiss that is available to the individual who asserts that they have been wronged by a politically or strategically motivated lawsuit. The Motion to Dismiss provides for a potentially quick resolution to SLAPP litigation and it is decided based upon proof by a preponderance of the evidence, which is our lowest burden of proof.
Be sure when contemplating SLAPP litigation, that your analysis is fact-based. Business are also protected by our U.S. and Connecticut Constitutions.
If you’re an individual who is exercising your Constitutional rights, do so intelligently and focus your language on a combination of the law that you claim has been violated and the facts that underpin the alleged violation.
If you’re a business and you have been accused of a violation of State, federal or local law, understand that opinions uttered in a public forum are those proverbial childhood “words” as opposed to actual sticks and stones; they don’t amount to an actionable claim.
But, what if that passionate individual isn’t just passionate, but cloaking themselves in the Constitutional flag with the intent to harm you and your business? What if that firebrand has spoken or written to a governmental body and suggested facts that aren’t facts at all, with the intent that the government relies upon those assertions to your business’s detriment? If that’s the situation, then you probably have good faith grounds to sue. And you will probably survive that fast track motion to dismiss.
Every day, we mix, pour and shape the Constitutional conglomerate that builds our clients’ representation. If you find yourself on either side of a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, contact the Maddox Law Firm.