Thursday, September 11, 2003
Davis Signs Bill Designed to Curb Alleged Abuse of Anti-SLAPP Law
By a MetNews Staff Writer
Gov. Gray Davis has signed a bill that limits the ability of businesses to use the state’s anti-SLAPP law to attack suits brought against them by members of the public, his office said yesterday.
SB 515, by Sen. Sheila Kuehl, D-Santa Monica, “will limit frivolous lawsuits large corporations are filing against everyday Californians who are only exercising their First Amendment rights,” the governor said in a statement.
The legislation “will protect free speech and ensure that consumer rights are upheld,” the governor added.
Under the new law, which takes effect Jan. 1, a lawsuit cannot be stricken as a strategic lawsuit against public participation if it is brought “solely in the public interest or on behalf of the general public.”
The law only applies if three conditions are met—the plaintiff cannot be seeking greater relief than that sought for the general public or the other members of a class of which the plaintiff is a member, the action must seek to “enforce an important right affecting the public interest,” and the action must be one in which the plaintiff has assumed a financial burden disproportionate to the plaintiff’s personal stake in the matter.
The conditions are similar to those that must be met to obtain an award of attorney fees as a private attorney general.
The legislation would also generally bar sellers or lessors of goods or services from bringing anti-SLAPP motions against plaintiffs who are suing over their business practices. It would not, however, bar authors, journalists, broadcasters, or the like from bringing anti-SLAPP motions against plaintiffs who sue for defamation or similar torts.
The bill passed the Senate 21-15 and the Assembly 44-30, following party lines.
The legislation was backed by Consumer Attorneys of California, the California Anti-SLAPP Project, the Congress of California Seniors, and the Consumer Federation of California. They argued that large corporations were delaying lawsuits by filing frivolous anti-SLAPP motions.
Opponents of the bill included the American Civil Liberties Union, California Chamber of Commerce, California Healthcare Institute, Civil Justice Association of California and trade groups for the insurance, real estate and building industries, as well as the California Dental Association and Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California.
Those groups argued that the law will encourage frivolous or malicious lawsuits targeting businesses and seeking to force nuisance settlements or block legitimate business activities.
The building industry argued that SB 515 will take away existing protection from frivolous environmental litigation.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company