Anti-SLAPP Statutes in Federal Courts
As set out in that post, a SLAPP (Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation) lawsuit is one that is filed by the plaintiff in order to chill the exercise of the defendant’s First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances by obtaining a financial advantage over the defendant in litigation.
In contrast, an anti-SLAPP statute provides procedural and substantive protection for the defendant in cases where the plaintiff’s lawsuit is grounded on a good faith communication in furtherance of the right to petition.
Anti-SLAPP statutes in federal courts
An interesting question is whether and to what extent federal courts may or even must enforce anti-SLAPP statutes in federal proceedings. Consider in this regard the First Circuit’s decision in Godin v. Schencks, 629 F.3d 79, 86 (1st Cir. 2010), a case involving a section 1983 procedural due process claim against various defendants as well as pendent state law claims against three school system employees who had separately said in meetings with school officials that the plaintiff, a former principal, had acted abusively toward students.
In Godin, the First Circuit extensively analyzed the relationship between the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and a Maine anti-SLAPP statute (Section 556) “that governs both procedure and substance in the state courts. The issue [as to the pendent state law claims] is whether Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) and 56 preclude application of Section 556 in federal court.”
Confronting this issue of first impression in its circuit, the First Circuit held that Maine’s anti-SLAPP statute must be applied to the plaintiff’s state law claims against these three individual defendants.
In the court’s view, neither of these two Federal Rules was meant to control the issues under Section 556 in federal courts. In addition, the dual purposes of Erie R. Co. v. Tompkins, 304 U.S. 64 (1938)—discouraging forum shopping and avoiding inequitable administration of the laws—were best served by enforcement of Section 556. The defendants could therefore defend against the pendent state law claims under the anti-SLAPP statute.
The First Circuit observed that it was joining the Fifth and Ninth Circuits in reaching this conclusion. It cited as support Henry v. Lake Charles Am. Press, LLC, 566 F.3d 164 (5th Cir. 2009), and United States ex rel. Newsham v. Lockheed Missiles & Space Co., 190 F.3d 963 (9th Cir. 1999).
Note that a state’s anti-SLAPP statute should not be a defense to a section 1983 claim in federal court by virtue of the Supremacy Clause.