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How Tennessee’s Anti-SLAPP Statute Can Impact Your Lawsuit

McCarter | East PLLC June 10, 2024

Lady justice with scales, gavel and lawbook on table Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, have long been a tool used to intimidate and silence critics by burdening them with costly and time-consuming litigation. Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP statute is designed to combat this misuse of the legal system and provides a vital shield for individuals and entities exercising their First Amendment rights.  

Tennessee's anti-SLAPP statute plays a pivotal role in safeguarding free speech and protecting individuals from frivolous lawsuits. Designed to combat the misuse of the legal system, this statute helps individuals and entities dismiss baseless lawsuits or retaliatory legal threats and reinforces the importance of free expression and public debate.  

At McCarter | East PLLC, we acknowledge the importance of free speech and lawful participation in public matters. We proudly serve clients in Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee, and our proximity to the courthouse in Murfreesboro puts us in a unique position to assist our clients effectively. 

Understanding the implications of Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP statute is crucial for anyone involved in litigation related to public discourse, as it can significantly impact the fate of such lawsuits. Offering skilled business law support, we are here to help you understand the various aspects of the statute and its potential implications for your case. 

What Is SLAPP?

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation. These lawsuits are typically filed by powerful entities—such as corporations or influential individuals—with the primary intent of silencing critics through intimidation and harassment.  

These suits often target individuals who exercise their First Amendment rights, whether they are speaking out on matters of public concern, petitioning the government, or participating in other forms of protected speech and association. 

SLAPP suits are not about winning on legal merit; instead, they aim to burden the defendant with the cost and stress of a lengthy legal process, thereby deterring them from further criticism or public participation. This misuse of the legal system can stifle free speech and discourage individuals from engaging in public discourse. 

How Does Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP Statute Impact Your Lawsuit?

Tennessee's anti-SLAPP statute, formally known as the Tennessee Public Participation Act (TPPA), was enacted to combat the misuse of SLAPP suits and uphold individuals' constitutional rights. Passed in 2019, the TPPA offers robust protections for individuals and entities targeted by SLAPP suits by enabling early dismissal of such cases. These protections include: 

  • Protecting free speech: The TPPA protects and encourages the constitutional rights of individuals to speak freely, petition, associate freely, and participate in government activities. By providing an avenue for the early dismissal of SLAPP suits, the TPPA ensures that defendants are not unduly burdened by meritless lawsuits aimed at silencing their voices. 

  • Burden of proof: Under the TPPA, once a defendant files a petition to dismiss a case based on the anti-SLAPP statute, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to demonstrate a prima facie case for the essential elements of their claim. If the plaintiff cannot meet this burden, the court must grant the motion to dismiss. 

  • Stay on discovery: Upon the filing of a petition to dismiss, all discovery processes are paused until the court decides on the petition, preventing plaintiffs from using the discovery phase to further harass the defendant. However, the court may allow limited discovery if the plaintiff can show good cause. 

  • Immediate appeal: The TPPA provides the right to an immediate appeal. If the court grants the motion to dismiss, the decision is immediately appealable as a matter of right. This provision saves significant time and resources, providing defendants with a faster resolution to the legal battle. 

  • Award of attorney's fees and costs: If the court dismisses a SLAPP suit, the TPPA mandates that the plaintiff must pay the defendant's attorney's fees and court costs. This acts as a deterrent against filing frivolous lawsuits and ensures that defendants are not financially burdened by the legal process. 

Exceptions and Challenges to Tennessee's Anti-SLAPP Statute

While the TPPA provides robust protections, it is not without its exceptions and challenges. Critics argue that the statute may be misused by defendants to dismiss legitimate claims, potentially denying plaintiffs their day in court. Additionally, the statute requires careful interpretation to balance the rights of both parties involved. 

  • Scope of protection: The TPPA is broad, but it does have limitations. It primarily applies to lawsuits that involve matters of public concern, such as issues related to free speech, petitioning, and association. Private disputes that do not touch upon these areas may not fall under the statute's protection. 

  • Legal interpretation: Like with any legal statute, the interpretation of the TPPA is subject to judicial discretion. Courts must carefully weigh the evidence and arguments presented by both parties to determine whether the statute applies to a particular case. This process can lead to varying outcomes depending on the specifics of each lawsuit. 

How to Leverage the Anti-SLAPP Statute in Tennessee

Understanding the TPPA can be complex, but with the right approach, individuals and businesses can effectively leverage its protections. Here are some practical steps to consider: 

  • Assess the nature of the claim: Before filing a petition to dismiss under the TPPA, assess whether the lawsuit involves a matter of public concern and falls within the scope of the statute. Consult with legal counsel to help determine the applicability of the anti-SLAPP statute to your case. 

  • File a petition to dismiss: If you believe the lawsuit against you is a SLAPP suit, you should file a petition to dismiss under the TPPA. This petition should outline the grounds for dismissal and provide evidence supporting your claim that the lawsuit targets your exercise of constitutional rights. 

  • Compile admissible evidence: To strengthen your petition, gather admissible evidence such as sworn affidavits, documents, and other relevant materials that demonstrate the meritless nature of the lawsuit. Presenting a strong case to the court increases the likelihood of a successful dismissal. 

  • Prepare for limited discovery: While the TPPA stays all discovery upon filing the petition, be prepared for the possibility of limited discovery if the court allows it. Cooperate with the discovery process and provide any necessary information to support your petition. 

  • Seek legal counsel: Leveraging the TPPA and a petition to dismiss can be challenging. Consult with experienced attorneys, like those at McCarter | East PLLC, who can provide valuable guidance and representation. 

Experienced Counsel You Can Trust

Tennessee's anti-SLAPP statute serves as a powerful tool for protecting free speech and preventing the misuse of the legal system to intimidate and silence individuals. By understanding and effectively utilizing the TPPA, you can safeguard your constitutional rights when confronted with SLAPP suits. 

At McCarter | East PLLC, we are committed to advocating for your rights and providing expert legal guidance in Murfreesboro and Woodbury, Tennessee. If you believe you are facing a SLAPP suit or need assistance with leveraging the TPPA, contact us today to set up a consultation. Let us help you protect your voice and ensure that justice prevails.