Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation Tuesday that protects citizens’ rights to free speech by curbing “strategic lawsuits against public participation” known as SLAPP.
SLAPP lawsuits are frivolous lawsuits brought by wealthy plaintiffs who have the ability to spend large sums of money through costly litigation to obstruct those who exercise their right to free speech.
The legislation amends the Civil Rights Act to require that costs and attorneys’ fees be recovered in respect of these frivolous lawsuits, which will deter plaintiffs from filing such lawsuits in the first place.
“For too long, the powerful and rich have resorted to frivolous lawsuits to harass and intimidate their critics by charging 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 intimidation by those who have more money than they do.”
The legislation will amend the civil rights law to protect the first amendment rights of New Yorkers. Current legal protections are too limited in scope to guarantee maximum protection for the free exercise of the rights of expression, petition and association. Current state law does not allow courts to award coverage of costs and legal fees to defendants when they are determined to be victims of SLAPP lawsuits.
This legislation makes clear that legal fees associated with SLAPP lawsuits are required to be awarded to victims if the lawsuit is found to have been initiated in bad faith, fostering only meritorious litigation.