Tennessee State Rep. Bob Ramsey, R-Maryville, has reportedly proposed a bill that could result in fewer meritless lawsuits, according to The Daily Times of Blount County.
“Cases of this type can end up costing both sides in the tens of thousands of dollars, and the average citizen could not possibly match those resources,” the paper quoted Ramsey as saying.
The bill, if enacted into law, would reportedly create the “Tennessee Public Participation Act.”
“When a defamation suit is brought involving claims made about matters of public concern, the proposed bill would allow the defendant to petition the judge to dismiss the lawsuit,” The Daily Times reported.
Sen. Steve Dickerson, R-Nashville, has reportedly filed a companion bill.
“This doesn’t prevent anyone from filing a lawsuit for protection from speech,” Ramsey reportedly told The Daily Times.
“The judge will be able to decide indeed if the case is frivolous.”
If passed, Tennessee would become the 29th state with an anti-SLAPP statute, the paper said.
According to the paper, SLAPP is short for “Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. It specifically refers to “a trend of retaliatory lawsuits brought to threaten opponents with a lengthy and expensive court process. In these cases, the actual outcome of the trial did not matter, so long as it sent the message that public criticism would prove expensive.”
The Daily Times said such cases have happened in Tennessee, including a defamation lawsuit against a Nashville restauranteur.
The bills are currently in committee, the paper reported.
According to The Civil Liberties Defense Center, the use of SLAPP suits as a harassment tool was so pervasive in the 1990’s that some states began adopting laws to protect a citizen’s rights to engage in free speech.
“Not all of these laws are alike, but many of these anti-SLAPP laws offer defendants the opportunity to recoup their legal fees if they prove that they have been forced to defend themselves from a frivolous lawsuit,” the website said.
“However, even if the defendant ultimately prevails with an anti-SLAPP suit, the defendant will likely have wasted multiple years defending their case. Thus, exoneration from a SLAPP suit, if it comes at all, will not come without years of time wasted on litigation and emotional turmoil, as well as the loss of thousands of dollars if a defendant is not lucky enough to live in the few states that have anti-SLAPP laws.”
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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Bob Ramsey” by Bob Ramsey. Background Photo “Tennessee Capitol House Floor” by Ichabod. CC BY 3.0.