By Robert Ray
As the internet started to expand into everyday life and people began using it as a place to exchange information, a problem developed.
When someone would say something bad about a person or business or gave a less than favorable review, that person or business would often file suit against the person giving the review. They would claim defamation or business disparagement. The lawsuit was a strategy by the plaintiff rather than a one-time suit. These cases were costly to the person being sued even if they won the case.
Most states, including Texas, passed citizen participation acts commonly referred to as Anti-Slapp statutes. Slapp means Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. See Texas Citizens Participation Act (TCPA), TEX. CIV. PRAC. & REM. CODE ANN. § 27.001 et. seq. These citizen participation acts sought to protect a person’s free speech right and give a quick mechanism to dismiss these complaints and punish the person who filed suit. The Texas Anti-Slapp statute says that it applies if: “the legal action is based on, relates to, or is in response to the party’s exercise of: (1) the right of free speech; (2) the right to petition; or (3) the right of association.” id § 27.005.
The right of free speech means a communication made in connection with a matter of public concern.
The right of association means a communication between individuals who join together to collectively express, promote, pursue, or defend common interests.
The right to petition includes more than a dozen categories of communications, including those related to judicial proceedings, public meetings, and even those reasonably likely to enlist public participation in government proceedings.
When a defendant successfully invokes the Texas Anti-Slapp statute, the court must dismiss the claim and award attorney’s fees and sanctions against the plaintiff who brought the suit.
People assumed that the Texas Anti-Slapp statute applied only to defamation or business disparagement claims. Then came Exxon!
In ExxonMobil Pipeline Co. v. Coleman, 512 S.W.3d 895 (Tex. 2017), the Texas Supreme Court held that the statute applied to a wide range of activities. The court rejected any effort to narrow the scope of the statute. The statute is not limited to defamation or business disparagement cases. For some of the types of cases to which the Texas Anti-Slapp statute has been applied, click on the tags on the right and review the cases that dealt with those terms.
Because of the Supreme Court’s expansive interpretation of the Texas Anti-Slapp statute, one has to be vary cautions of the consequences before filing suit that may bring an Anti-Slapp motion to dismiss. The defendant in any suit has to be aware of their potential right to file a motion under the Texas Anti-Slapp statute since its remedies are so great.