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New York Expands Protections of Free Speech and Petition Rights by Expanding Anti-SLAPP Law

By Anastasia M. McCarthy, Esq.
 
Earlier this week, Governor Cuomo signed S.52A/A.5991A into law, which expands protections against SLAPP lawsuits. So, what is SLAPP?  SLAPP lawsuits (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) are frivolous lawsuits, typically filed by wealthy individuals and/or entities, with the intention of harassing and/or intimidating others into remaining silent. The plaintiffs in these cases weaponize the cost and time-consuming nature of litigation to keep others from exercising their rights to free speech and/or petition.
 
While not an entirely new law, this piece of new legislation greatly expands New York’s original anti-SLAPP law by amending the Civil Rights Law as follows:
           
(1) Provides that costs and attorneys fees shall be recovered upon a demonstration that a SLAPP suit was commenced or continued without a substantial basis in fact or law and could not be supported by a substantial argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law.” Entitlement to costs and fees requires the Court to first find that the case has been initiated or pursued in bad faith.
           
(2) Defines “an action involving public petition and participation to include “a claim related to: i. Any communication in a place open to the public or a public forum in connection with an issue of public interest; or ii. Any other lawful conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest or in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition.” Moreover “public interest” is to be broadly construed (“e.g. anything other than a ‘purely private matter.’”).
           
(3) Calls for a stay on discovery and all hearings or motions once a motion dismiss has been made pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7).

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