Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed legislation that protects citizens’ rights to free speech and petition by deterring abusive “strategic lawsuits against public participation,” known as SLAPPs. SLAPP lawsuits are frivolous litigation brought by affluent plaintiffs who have the ability to spend large sums of money by using expensive and time-consuming litigation to obstruct those exercising their right to free speech. The legislation amends the Civil Rights Law to require costs and attorney’s fees to be recovered regarding these frivolous lawsuits, which will deter plaintiffs from bringing such lawsuits in the first place.
“For too long, powerful and wealthy interests have used frivolous lawsuits to harass and intimidate critics by burdening them with exorbitant legal fees and time consuming legal processes. That ends now,” Governor Cuomo said. “I am proud to sign this legislation, which protects New Yorkers’ fundamental right to free speech without fear of harassment or bullying by those who happen to have more money than they do.”
This legislation will amend the civil rights law to protect New Yorker’s first amendment rights. The current legal protections are too narrow in scope to ensure the utmost protection for the free exercise of speech, petition, and association rights. Current law does not allow courts to award costs and legal fees to defendants when they are found to be victims of SLAPP suits. This legislation makes clear that legal fees associated with SLAPP suits are required to be awarded to victims if the lawsuit is found to have been initiated in bad faith – encouraging only meritorious litigation.
Assemblymember Helene Weinstein said, “The dangerous message that these lawsuits send is that criticism will cost you. Recent experience has shown that there are an increasing number of deep pocketed individuals who have outrageously used New York’s court system as a means to harass New Yorkers who have publicly disagreed with them. These lawsuits are started not because they have any chance of ultimate success – they don’t – but to make sure that others don’t speak out publicly, for fear of being sued. I wish to express my thanks to Senator Hoylman for his sponsorship in the Senate and appreciation to Governor Cuomo for signing this bill into law to protect all New Yorkers.”