A Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (“SLAPP”) is a term for a legal action that is of little merit but is filed anyway for the purpose of stopping someone from engaging in (usually constitutionally protected) speech by burdening them with a costs of a lawsuit. In December of 2010, the D.C. Council passed, with our support, an Anti-SLAPP Act that provides a special procedure for people engaged in advocacy on public interest issues to have a court dismiss SLAPP suits quickly.
Michael Mann, a professor of meteorology at Penn State University and co-author of the well-known “hockey-stick graph” about global warming, sued the Competitive Enterprise Institute and the National Review magazine for defamation when they published articles accusing him of “molesting” the data. The defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case under the Anti-SLAPP Act. The Superior Court denied the motion, and the defendants appealed; Professor Mann moved to dismiss the appeal on the ground that there was no final judgment.
In November 2013, we filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Court of Appeals arguing that immediate appeals of decisions denying motions to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP statute are critical to the effective functioning of that law. We expressed no view on the merits of Prof. Mann’s case. That appeal was dismissed as moot when Prof. Mann filed an amended complaint. But in January 2014 the Superior Court denied a motion under the Anti-SLAPP Act to dismiss the amended complaint, and defendants again appealed. In August 2014 we filed a new amicus brief—this time jointly with the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and many media groups—again supporting defendants’ right to an immediate appeal and also arguing that the statements at issue were constitutionally protected opinion and fair comment, particularly given the context in which they appeared.
In December 2016, the court ruled that it had jurisdiction to consider the appeal, but that a reasonable jury could conclude that some of the statements were false and made with “actual malice,” and remanded the case to the Superior Court for further proceedings.
After petitions for this matter to be given another hearing before the whole panel of judges in the D.C. Court of Appeals were denied in late 2018 and early 2019, the defendants filed a petition asking the Supreme Court to hear the case.
For more information on Washington D.C.’s Anti-SLAPP Act, click on the following link: http://www.anti-slapp.org/your-states-free-speech-protection/