State SLAPP Law Applies in US District Court

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(Jeffrey Gould has written for The Saint Report about SLAPP suits and legal rights to protect public participation in the development process. Here he examines the impact of US Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that upholds a state of Maine statute to protect citizens against “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”, called SLAPP suits.)

By Jeffrey Gould, Vice President and General Counsel, The Saint Consulting Group

Litigants can take advantage of a state’s anti-SLAPP law in federal court following a recent First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling out of Maine. The anti-SLAPP statute is intended to provide a measure of protection to people who speak up on public issues that qualify as petitioning activity under the statute.

The First Circuit covers federal courts in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico.

The decision is important in that it is an issue of first impression, and there was a significant lack of clarity in the First Circuit over whether state anti-SLAPP statutes are applicable in federal court. The court is clearly telling the District courts that they can be used in federal court.

In Godin v. Schenks, et al., the plaintiff argued that the defendants’ motion to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit was unenforceable in federal court because Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute conflicted with Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. But the First Circuit disagreed, reversing the ruling of a U.S. District Court judge.

“In getting at the potential rub in the relationship between a Federal Rule of Procedure and the state law, courts now ask if the federal rule is ‘sufficiently broad to control the issue before the court,’” Chief Justice Sandra L. Lynch wrote for the unanimous panel. “We conclude that Fed.R.Civ.P.12(b)(6), which governs motions to dismiss on the pleadings, and Fed.R.Civ.P.56, which governs motions for summary judgment, are not so broad as to cover the issues within the scope of anti-SLAPP statutes.”

The decision is consistent with other circuit courts that have addressed the issue, and will greatly expand the application of anti-SLAPP laws.

Jeffrey Gould is general counsel and vice president for The Saint Consulting Group, email, phone 781.749.7290 Ext: 7115


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