Public Citizen and the American Civil Liberties Union of the Nation’s Capital filed an amicus brief in the D.C. Circuit in a case of first impression involving the D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act of 2010. The Act seeks to counter the chilling effect that strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPPs) have on individuals’ First Amendment rights. SLAPPs often appear to be typical tort cases, such as defamation suits, but are frequently filed to intimidate advocates into silence. The D.C. Anti-SLAPP Act provides a mechanism through which an individual conducting “advocacy on issues of public interest” can seek to have a meritless suit arising from his or her advocacy quickly dismissed, sparing the individual from protracted litigation that might limit his or her further expression.
The amicus brief took no position on whether the district court properly denied the anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss in this case. Rather, the brief addressed two important legal questions that affect the operation of the Act more generally.
First, although the appellate jurisdiction of the federal courts of appeals is generally limited to final orders, our amicus brief argued that the court of appeals had jurisdiction to immediately review denials of anti-SLAPP motions that hinge on pure questions of law. Immediate review of denials of anti-SLAPP motions is critical to ensure that the SLAPP law serves its objective of protecting individuals’ First Amendment rights from the chilling effect of having to defend their speech through expensive litigation proceedings. Second, the brief argued that the Act applies to state-law claims in federal court litigation. This issue is important to ensure that the Act’s protections do not depend on whether an individual is sued in state or federal court.
Without reaching either issue briefed by amici, the D.C. Circuit held that the district court had properly denied as untimely defendants’ motion to dismiss under the anti-SLAPP Act.