Strategic lawsuit against public participation
A strategic lawsuit against public participation (SLAPP), SLAPP suit, or intimidation lawsuit is intended to censor, intimidate, and silence critics by burdening them with the cost of a legal defense until they abandon their criticism or opposition.
In the typical SLAPP, the plaintiff does not normally expect to win the lawsuit. The plaintiff's goals are accomplished if the defendant succumbs to fear, intimidation, mounting legal costs, or simple exhaustion and abandons the criticism. In some cases, repeated frivolous litigation against a defendant may raise the cost of directors and officers liability insurance for that party, interfering with an organization's ability to operate. A SLAPP may also intimidate others from participating in the debate. A SLAPP is often preceded by a legal threat. SLAPPs bring about freedom of speech concerns due to their chilling effect and are often difficult to filter out and penalize because the plaintiffs attempt to obfuscate their intent to censor, intimidate, or silence their critics.
To protect freedom of speech some jurisdictions have passed anti-SLAPP laws (often called SLAPP-back laws). These laws often function by allowing a defendant to file a motion to strike and/or dismiss on the grounds that the case involves protected speech on a matter of public concern. The plaintiff then bears the burden of showing a probability that they will prevail. If the plaintiffs fail to meet their burden their claim is dismissed and the plaintiffs may be required to pay a penalty for bringing the case.
Anti-SLAPP laws occasionally come under criticism from those who believe that there should not be barriers to the right to petition for those who sincerely believe they have been wronged, regardless of ulterior motives. Hence, the difficulty in drafting SLAPP legislation, and in applying it, is to craft an approach which affords an early termination to invalid, abusive suits, without denying a legitimate day in court to valid good faith claims. Anti-SLAPP laws are generally considered to have a favorable effect, and many lawyers have fought to enact stronger laws protecting against SLAPPs.