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SLAPP Lawsuits and Texas Citizens Participation Act: Introduction

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This article is an introduction to Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation ("SLAPP") lawsuits and the Texas Citizens Participation Act.

What are SLAPP lawsuits? And what is the Texas Citizens Participation Act?

SLAPP stands for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation.” This name describes a lawsuit filed to stop a person or group from speaking out. The lawsuit can be filed by the plaintiff on different grounds (reasons) like libel or tortious interference, but the point of a SLAPP suit is to silence the defendant regardless of whether the lawsuit has merit.

In Texas, the law that protects people from SLAPP lawsuits is called the Texas Citizens Participation Act (“TCPA”), found in Chapter 27 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code. The TCPA protects your First Amendment rights such as free speech, your right to petition (ask the government for help), and your right of association. It is referred to as the “Anti-SLAPP law.”

Here’s an example:

Austin Pet Groomers R Us (APGRU) is a dog and cat grooming business in Texas.  A Twitter feed called @APGRUsCatDog starts tweeting out messages like “Austin Pet Groomers R Us is a cat-astrophe; my haircut is uneven” and “I’m barking mad - they forgot to clip my nails.” APGRU files a lawsuit for libel against the owner of @APGRUsCatDog so these tweets will stop.

This libel lawsuit may be a SLAPP lawsuit. @APGRUsCatDog may be able to file a motion to dismiss (stop) the lawsuit filed against them under the TCPA.

 

Who are the parties in a SLAPP lawsuit?

In this toolkit, we will often refer to the parties as the movant and the nonmovant.

With an anti-SLAPP motion, the nonmovant is usually the plaintiff: the person or business who filed the lawsuit to silence the defendant. In the example above, the nonmovant is Austin Pet Groomers R Us.

The movant is the party who is being silenced (and is usually the defendant in the lawsuit). The movant files the TCPA motion to dismiss (stop) the lawsuit. In the example above the movant is the owner of the @APGRUsCatDog Twitter account.

How do I know if the lawsuit filed against me is a SLAPP lawsuit?

It can be hard to figure out if a lawsuit is actually a SLAPP lawsuit. SLAPP lawsuits are filed under causes of action such as defamation or tortious interference.

If you want to find out if your lawsuit is a SLAPP lawsuit, please talk to an attorney. The TCPA even makes hiring an attorney easier by requiring the other side pay your costs if you win.  

Additionally, SLAPP lawsuits are sometimes used by abusers/perpetrators in domestic violence/sexual assault situations to silence their victims. Please see our upcoming article titled “Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and SLAPP Lawsuits: How Abusers & Assailants Use SLAPP Lawsuits to Silence Their Victims” for more information. 

It is important to correctly identify whether your lawsuit is actually a SLAPP lawsuit or not before proceeding with any TCPA motion to dismiss. If you incorrectly file a TCPA motion to dismiss, the court might make you pay the other side for defense costs.

 

How do SLAPP lawsuits make things hard for the movant?

SLAPP lawsuits can be very costly for the movant. There is an immediate need to defend yourself. Your life can become consumed with having to find an attorney, worrying about how you are going to pay for the attorney, and concern for how you might pay if the judge rules against you.

Lawsuits like this can take up a lot of time and energy. People can lose jobs or have strained relationships with loved ones and friends. Before anti-SLAPP statutes, these suits could have dragged on for months and even years. 

How can the Texas Citizens Participation Act help me?

The Texas Citizens Participation Act can protect your rights in several ways. One, it gives you a way to stop a SLAPP case (by filing a motion to dismiss). Two, it provides a way to reimburse you for money you spent on an attorney to help you on your case. And finally, it lets the judge order sanctions against the nonmovant to discourage them from filing these types of cases in the future.

This toolkit will provide more information regarding these topics. Please check back soon.

 

Do I need an attorney to help me?

These basic instructions are not a substitute for the legal advice and counsel of a lawyer. A lawyer is trained to protect your legal rights. Even if you decide to represent yourself, try to talk to a lawyer about your case before filing anything. A lawyer can explain your rights and options.

If you need help finding a lawyer, you can:

  • Use our Legal Help Finder to search for a lawyer referral service, legal aid office or self-help center in your area.
  • Check our Legal Clinic Calendar to learn if there is an upcoming free legal clinic near you.
  • Use Ask a Question to chat online with a lawyer or law student.

 

Disclaimer

The Texas Citizens Participation Act is a new and changing area of law.

On June 2, 2019, the Texas governor signed HB 2730, which limits the scope of the Act, effective September 1, 2019. 

If you are served with a lawsuit that might be an anti-SLAPP action, you should talk to a lawyer. Use the Legal Help Finder tool to help you find a lawyer.