Yesterday, Governor Phil Murphy signed S-2802/A-4393, the 'Uniform Public Expression Protection Act', to protect people from meritless lawsuits intended to intimidate them for exercising their free speech rights. Powerful entities and individuals often use lawsuits and litigation threats to punish and silence those who might speak unfavorably about them. Such lawsuits are commonly referred to as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP).
A SLAPP is generally used to silence individuals or organizations from publicly criticizing or bringing legitimate issues to light about an individual or entity with greater power and resources.
If a SLAPP is initiated, the new law allows eligible defendants to file paperwork requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate the basis for the lawsuit and requiring the court to consider the issues in an expeditious manner. This process will enable these kinds of cases to be dismissed quickly, and at less expense to the defendant, rather than being drawn out in court.
In addition to the expedited timeline, other related legal proceedings may be paused until the request for an expedited dismissal is resolved. The new law also allows defendants in some cases to recover legal fees if the lawsuit is dismissed.
The League supports this measure and Executive Director Mike Cerra noted:
"After unanimous passage in both the Assembly and Senate, New Jersey municipalities appreciate the Governor signing this legislation that protects the local government's ability to function, without hampering the ability for residents to communicate, and ensuring that the threat of frivolous lawsuits is greatly diminished."
P.L. 2023, c. 155 takes effect on October 7, 2023 and applies to a civil action filed or cause of action asserted in a civil action on or after the effective date. We encourage you to share this information with your municipal attorney and professionals.
Contact: Paul Penna, Senior Legislative Analyst, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-695-3481, x110.