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Anti-SLAPP Laws: Why You Should Want Them

Imagine that you just posted a review online, speaking out against someone or a company that legitimately mistreated or misled you.  You obviously have every right to be displeased and to express yourself.  But what if that person or company who already wronged you took it one step further?  Next thing you know, you’re being harassed, threatened and eventually, you even get slapped with an outrageous lawsuit – quite literally.  The only way you can fight back is to hire a lawyer, which could potentially cost you thousands and thousands of dollars.

What if you lost?  What would you do?  Do you think this can’t happen to you?

While the intent of the First Amendment of the United States Constitution is to preserve freedom of speech, it is not an absolute form of protection.  The unfortunate reality within which we live today is that there are legal methods by which censorship can still be forced upon an individual, groups of people, or organizations.

SLAPP, or Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, is the current weapon of choice for those who seek to extort silence from anyone who has spoken out against them in a public space or forum.  In today’s world, this public platform is often times the Internet and the speaker could very well be a person just like you.

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Scambook is no stranger to SLAPPs and understanding how and why they are utilized by entities such as companies and corporations is critical knowledge, especially in today’s world where there are a myriad of ways to publicly voice your opinion.  We would simply like to take this opportunity to spread the word in case you aren’t quite familiar with SLAPPs yet.

 

How SLAPPs Operate and Who Can Become a Target

While SLAPPs can come in the form of various lawsuits, one of the most common is a defamation suit.  Rather than actually seeking to claim victory in court, those that use SLAPPs are more so attempting to drown their adversaries in a mountain of legal fees while trying to fight back – with the idea being that their target will eventually fold and concede silence.

Anyone who openly states their opinion against a person or organization can potentially become the center of a SLAPP.  Whether you speak negatively against a company for failing to deliver what was promised or your local government official for unethical practices, you definitely want to be aware of how a SLAPP might be thrust upon you as retaliation.

 

Case Example No. 1: Wright Development Group vs. John Walsh, Pioneer Press and Sun-Times Media LLC

In 2010, the Illinois Supreme Court set a legal precedent in SLAPP cases by reversing a 2008 trial and appellate court decision that ruled John Walsh, president of his Chicago community’s condo association, was not protected by the state’s anti-SLAPP law for comments he made to a local newspaper against the Wright Development Group, the company that was renovating condos in the building he lived in.

Both Walsh and the Pioneer Press were sued by the Wright Development Group for defamation in response to Walsh’s comments that brought attention to problems that his building encountered from renovation and conversion.  While the trial and appellate court ruled that Walsh was not protected by Illinois’ anti-SLAPP law, the state’s Supreme Court chose to grant him immunity under the same law – through a 7-0 decision nonetheless.

Through their ruling, the Illinois Supreme Court widened the scope and definition of what falls under the protection of the state’s anti-SLAPP law.  Walsh was consequently awarded coverage of his attorney’s fees and costs, which were reportedly estimated at $200,000.

 

Case Example No. 2: Sharper Image Corp. vs. Consumers Union

Sharper Image sued Consumers Union back in 2004 for an unfavorable review of a Sharper Image air cleaning product.  Consumers Union wasted little time and shot straight for California’s anti-SLAPP law to have the case dismissed.

The court did indeed throw out Sharper Image’s lawsuit on the grounds that the company had failed to reasonably disprove the statements made by Consumers Union in their review of the air cleaning system.  Consumers Union was subsequently rewarded reimbursement of legal fees and costs they had incurred – a total of $525,000, which they received in 2005.

 

Case Example No. 3: American Heritage Capital vs. Dinah Gonzalez

All Dinah Gonzalez was doing was following American Heritage Capital’s notice to her that she was eligible for a loan.  However, Gonzalez soon found herself being abruptly rejected upon applying for the loan she was told she could receive.  She took to the Internet and posted a handful of reviews on various sites expressing her discontent towards AHC’s loan application protocol.

It wasn’t long before American Heritage Capital caught wind of Gonzalez’s critical online reviews at which point, they began pestering her to take them down.  Gonzalez refused and AHC soon filed a defamation and tortious interference with prospective business relationships lawsuit against her.

One of the threatening messages AHC sent to Gonzalez even stated, “You started this.  You can end it.  Otherwise I will end it for you, and it won’t be pretty.”

Dinah Gonzalez leaned on Texas’ anti-SLAPP law and moved to have the case dismissed.  The court ruled in her favor, holding that she had simply used the Internet to voice her negative experience with AHC and express her frustrations.  The court further found that AHC exploited the legal system by attempting to have Gonzalez remove her posts by force.

In the end, American Heritage Capital was ordered by the presiding judge to pay all of the fees and costs incurred by Dinah Gonzalez during the lawsuit.  The ending may have very well been vastly different if Texas had not had an anti-SLAPP law in place.

 

What We Can Do – Anti-SLAPP

As things currently stand, a little less than half of the states in the U.S. have anti-SLAPP laws that can be referenced to fight against the SLAPPs.  However, the range of application differs state to state.  What we need is anti-SLAPP legislation that functions on a federal level to truly protect freedom of speech on a national scale.

Photo Source: freedomforum.org

The case examples that we’ve referenced are but a few scenarios where an anti-SLAPP law essentially saved the day, albeit after more of a fight for someone like John Walsh.  However, it is clear that overcoming a SLAPP suit and reaching a favorable judgment can become substantially more difficult should you live in a state without anti-SLAPP laws.

Without a federal anti-SLAPP law, the outcome of SLAPPs will still remain a case-by-case basis even in states with anti-SLAPP laws because some are defined more narrowly or loosely than others.  This means that while some cases may be quickly dismissed, others could indeed victimize the opinionated speaker(s) and force them into a reluctant retreat.

You can discover much more information on all things anti-SLAPP at www.anti-slapp.org.  They have other great stories you can check out and also provide instructions on how we can encourage Members of Congress to seek federal anti-SLAPP legislation.

Your voice could serve as a critical piece to this very delicate puzzle.  Without anti-SLAPP laws that protect American citizens and their right to freedom of speech nationally, SLAPPs will continue acting as a weapon for big players with deep pockets to use against rightful dissent.

Do you or anyone you know have experience in dealing with SLAPPs?  If that’s the case, we strongly urge you to share your story with us by submitting a complaint on Scambook or shooting us an email at press@scambook.com.  This is a fight that we must engage together as a united community.  Please don’t hesitate to share!

 

See Also

Exclusive on Anti-SLAPP Laws: Stop Businesses From Censoring You Online
Dentist Sues Patient Over Negative Yelp Review
Lawyers Are The Victims? Sometimes Even Smart Guys Get Taken

Got a complaint? Report it to Scambook!

Author:

I am a passionate writer who believes that there is nothing as engaging as the written word. I sincerely hope that the Scambook blog is a strong resource for consumers who always want to stay informed and out of harm’s way.

Comments

  1. donna

    I agree we need slapp laws. I have never heard the term and my husband is an attorney, who is also running for a political position that could help this cause. We must be careful in the wording and that people do not abuse these laws. I had a person from a wealthy community come into the store I managed, toys r us, and because I would not give him a product price match on a ad that was from target. I was following polcy which is if the store other store has the product even without an sale ad but can be verified we will match the price. I called ten target stores none of these stores had any in stock I even called a out of state store. the price was two hundred dolllares less than we sold it for. Target was running a ad that was on a item that was being discontinued. I could not by policy give this customer a two hundred dolllar discount. I have given items to customers that had a 75 dollar differnece when the other store was not in stock, but I have to justify these actions to my superiors. This customer threathend to start a campaign on the internet not against toys r us but me personally to make sure that I was not doing what was fair. I offered him a 100 dollar discount before the threats but no he wanted this item for 50 dollars. He claimed he had major power within the business community and that he would make sure that I would be fired for indecent behavior in his neighborhood and make sure that anyone on his website and social cites new this and make sure I would never find a job in my community. I had a attorney not my husband write this person and tell him to stop all action, and I did find information about me on the internet that was not very nice. I was not fired but I lost respect of other managers of other retail stores. I did not deserve this to happen and if the slapp law is written poorly this peson would not have been made to take the comments down. What states have this law, can you send me a copy of one of these laws. the legal wording not a outline. So my husband can look at the law and see if it is potentially something to look into if elected.

    Reply
  2. S Moore

    Really if you think about it , if you didn’t enter a lottery or play one how could you win one??????????? This web site is very good it confirmed what I already thought.

    Reply
  3. Jeffrey Fichtelberg

    Flava Works and the CEO Phillip Bleicher is the best example of this type of victimization of people whom make negative comments about his company Flava Works, the trrash it produces and the criminal that runs it His history includes hiring Aid infected people for Porn, tax cheat, cheating suppliers and those he employs , sue customers, running a Fraudulent Charity, breaking and entering, and the list goes on.

    Scam book should investigate this man and all others should avoid any contact with him or any business entity he is involved with.

    Visit Miami-dade clerk of courts and Cook county clerk of courts type in company and seperatley his name to begin. Google his conpmany and him for law suits ect. Bleicher is a disease and a criminal who want to silence all. Pays no taxes, Spreads Aids, sues those who expose him and any one who does busines with him including customers.

    Reply
  4. Gary Kaplan

    I have been ripped off for $22,000 by a Hayward, California real estate attorney Alfred James Antonini II, aka A.James Antonini and have posted on Scambook and every other place on the internet that I can find. A California Bar Association complaint is a bad joke. They are biased towards the attorney, are very slow, many opportunities are offered for the attorney to get out easy and they do not do much punishment. If someone on the street stole $20 they would go to jail, but an attorney can get off very easy. Internet exposure such as scam book is very important to warn consumers.
    Since I have posted I have received emails form other consumers that have been scammed by Alfred James Antonini II. One 85 year old lady that was trying to set up a trust go nothing done for her $3000. and no calls returned. They did a search after the fact. Hopefully Scambook and I have saved some people money and aggravation.
    Anti Slapp laws are needed and fines for those that bring them.

    Reply
  5. Jeffrey Fichtelberg

    There are pros and cons to the ANTI-SLAPP laws. The big problem with the law is that the legal system and government provides no protection to the consumer. People should be able to find out about a company that is criminal. Flava Works buy every measure meet the criteria. One important point for any one who buys his trash to know is that as a result of how honest he is, if you purchase with a credit card and for what ever reason do not want to pay for the products, simply charge it back. Phillip Bleicher CEO/Flava Works has no recourse. His credit card Processors will honor all charge backs, and he can do nothing. He will sue you for being critical, so say nothing and win the war at his loss.

    Reply

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