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November 17, 2020

NYS Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Strengthening Anti-SLAPP Protections

On November 11, 2020, NYS Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation expanding and strengthening New York’s anti-SLAPP law. “Strategic lawsuits against public participation”—colloquially known as SLAPP lawsuits—are frivolous lawsuits typically brought by wealthy and powerful plaintiffs seeking to suppress their critics’ free speech through expensive and time-consuming litigation. While many other states have already implemented forceful anti-SLAPP protections, New York’s prior anti-SLAPP law had been narrowly construed and was the subject of frequent criticism by free speech advocates.

The new law extends anti-SLAPP protections to statements on matters of “public interest” made in a public forum as well as to “any lawful conduct in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of free speech in connection with an issue of public interest, or in furtherance of the exercise of the constitutional right of petition.” The law will therefore now offer anti-SLAPP protections to statements made by members of news and media organizations on matters of public interest, while it had previously only applied to speech regarding a “public applicant or permittee.” The new law further directs that the term “public interest” is to be interpreted broadly to include anything other than a “purely private matter.”

The law affords defendants in SLAPP litigation with expanded protections meant to deter frivolous litigation that has no chance of succeeding on the merits. It provides for a stay of discovery upon the filing of a motion to dismiss a SLAPP lawsuit along with expedited consideration of the anti-SLAPP claim. It also makes mandatory that a successful defendant be awarded fees and costs, while the prior law only made it discretionary.

The new anti-SLAPP legislation signed by Governor Cuomo goes into effect immediately. Its expanded protections will allow defendants in SLAPP litigation to seek an early dismissal of the plaintiff’s claims without having to conduct costly and time-consuming discovery. The implementation of mandatory fee-shifting is also intended to deter SLAPP plaintiffs from commencing meritless lawsuits.

If you have any questions regarding the content of this alert, please contact Daniel Coleman, associate, at dcoleman@barclaydamon.com, or another member of the Torts & Products Liability Defense Practice Area.

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