With services like Twitter, Facebook and Yelp, every smartphone-carrying customer has the power to shout your business mistakes to the world. While large corporations have the advertising power to influence public opinion, a small company may need to protect themselves if a customer goes too far and defames the business. However, if you sue over a legitimate, non-defamatory comment, you may be using what is known as a SLAPP suit.
A savvy business-owner can navigate the world of SLAPP suits and anti-SLAPP motions by remembering these three things.
1) What are SLAPP suits and Anti-SLAPP motions?
Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation, or “SLAPP,” is a catchall term for lawsuits filed by businesses in response to concerns about public speech affecting their business interests.
The kinds of lawsuits which are usually subject to this term include:
A company may choose to sue a blog writer, for example, for writing a blog about how terrible and dangerous their product is. When that business chooses litigation by suing that blogger for defamation, the suit can be considered a SLAPP suit.
In response to concerns that these suits chill free speech rights, many states have created anti-SLAPP statues, like California, which enable defendants in SLAPP suits to file a motion to be quickly be dismissed from a suit without paying for lengthy litigation or discovery.
These motions are commonly referred to as Anti-SLAPP motions, and they allow the defendant defeat the SLAPP suit against them and to recover attorney’s fees from the company who sued them.
2) Which states have Anti-SLAPP statutes?
There are 24 states which have specific statutes enabling defendants to file Anti-SLAPP motions. D.C.’s City Council has also passed an Anti-SLAPP Act, and many other states have state case law supporting an Anti-SLAPP motion.
3) How to effectively deal with Anti-SLAPP motions.
Depending on the circumstances of your business’ claim, the following tips might help you make the best decision:
Pick Your Battles
If a customer or former employee has posted a damaging comment about your business on Twitter, it would be wise to consider all the costs of pursuing that individual for defamation or libel. Remember that if you sue in a jurisdiction which has Anti-SLAPP motions and you lose, you could be on the hook for the defendant’s attorney’s fees.
Remember Truth is a Defense
Among the various defenses to libel and slander, truth is a perfect defense. A business cannot exact vengeance on an individual through the civil courts for saying something truthful which strikes a nerve.
“SLAPP Back” Suits
Pursuing frivolous claims against individuals who sass your company may not only be bad for business, it can also trigger a SLAPP Back suit. If a business has their claim dismissed by an Anti-SLAPP motion, the defendant may “SLAPP back” suing the plaintiff company for malicious prosecution.
These suits are not always successful but they put businesses at risk to pay huge amounts for emotional distress and punitive damages.
If your business is considering filing suit and you’re worried about Anti-SLAPP motions, contact an attorney.