Understanding Arizona’s Anti-SLAPP Laws

Arizona anti-slapp laws

Arizona's Anti-SLAPP law, found in A.R.S. § 12-751, serves to protect individuals' constitutional rights to free speech and petition. SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, which are often filed with the purpose of intimidating or silencing someone through legal action. 

 

By allowing individuals to file a motion to dismiss these types of lawsuits early on in the legal process, Arizona's legislature aims to prevent the effect that SLAPP suits can have on individuals exercising their First Amendment rights.

 

At Kolsrud Law Offices, we understand the importance of protecting our clients' freedom of speech and petition. Our experienced attorneys are well-versed in Arizona's Anti-SLAPP law and are dedicated to helping individuals handle frivolous suits.

Defending against a SLAPP suit can be incredibly expensive, with average legal costs for a motion to dismiss ranging from $10,000 to $100,000. When cases proceed to full trials, these costs can escalate significantly.

What is a SLAPP Lawsuit

A SLAPP lawsuit, or Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation, is a legal tactic used primarily to intimidate and silence critics through the financial and emotional burden of litigation.

 

These lawsuits are often characterized by their lack of substantial legal merit; their true purpose is not to win the case, but rather to discourage opponents by forcing them to incur the cost and stress of a legal defense.

 

The term "SLAPP" was coined in the 1980s, and these cases typically involve a larger, more resourceful party suing an individual or a smaller, less wealthy entity. Common targets of SLAPP lawsuits include journalists, activists, political figures, and local organizations, especially those who voice opposition to issues of public interest such as real estate development, public policy, and corporate practices.

 

SLAPP filers often use the threats of damages, the distraction of legal proceedings, and the fear of public exposure to suppress opposition. The legal processes themselves become tools of intimidation, as defendants may face years of litigation, overwhelming legal costs, and public scrutiny.

 

Famous SLAPP Suit

One of the most high-profile SLAPP suits involved Oprah Winfrey. In 1998, Oprah was sued by Texas cattle ranchers who claimed that she defamed the beef industry on her talk show. During a 1996 episode, she expressed concerns about mad cow disease following a discussion with a guest, which allegedly caused the cattle market to plummet. The ranchers sought more than $12 million in damages, claiming that her statements unjustly harmed their business.

arizonas anti slapp legislation changes

Explaining Arizona's Updated Anti-SLAPP Laws

Arizona's Anti-SLAPP laws have undergone significant revisions to adapt to the evolving needs of free speech and public participation.

 

The initial statute, enacted in 2006, provided basic protections against SLAPP suits, primarily aimed at protecting individuals engaging in direct petitioning of the government. 

 

The 2022 revision of Arizona's Anti-SLAPP statute marked a substantial enhancement of these protections. The key differences between the 2006 law and the 2022 revision include:

 

  1. Expanded Scope of Protected Activities: The original law was somewhat narrow, focusing on petitioning the government. The 2022 update broadens this to include a wider range of protected activities. It now covers any statement made in a public forum on matters of public concern and the exercise of the right of free speech, freedom of the press, free association, and peaceable assembly.
  2. Strengthened Dismissal Process: Under the revised law, the process for dismissing a lawsuit as a SLAPP is streamlined and fortified. Defendants can now more effectively challenge a SLAPP suit at an early stage, reducing the time and expense involved in fighting unwarranted legal actions. This is particularly important in high-stakes environments such as elections, where strategic lawsuits can be used to silence political activism or suppress voter engagement.
  3. Recovery of Legal Fees: Both the original and revised laws allow defendants who successfully get a SLAPP suit dismissed to recover attorney fees and costs. The 2022 revision emphasizes this provision, reinforcing the deterrent effect against filing baseless lawsuits and alleviating the financial burden on defendants.
women with microphone exercising her first amendment right of free speech

What is Considered Free Speech

Free speech is protected under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. This protection covers a wide range of expressions that allow individuals to express ideas and opinions without government restraint. 

 

Protected Forms of Expression:

 

  • Speech: This includes spoken words, public speeches, and other verbal expressions.
  • Written Material: Books, pamphlets, articles, and all forms of written communication are protected.
  • Symbolic Speech: Actions and symbols that convey a particular message, such as protests, signs, and symbols like armbands, are considered forms of free speech.
  • Artistic Works: Art, music, and performances that express ideas fall under the protection of free speech.
  • Political Speech: Perhaps the most strongly protected form, political speech allows citizens to comment on matters of public interest or criticize the government without fear of retaliation.

 

Limitations on Free Speech

 

While the First Amendment offers broad protections, there are notable exceptions where speech may be regulated:

 

  • Obscenity: Speech or materials that are considered legally obscene are not protected.
  • Defamation: Making false statements about someone that can harm their reputation, known as libel (written) or slander (spoken), is not protected.
  • Incitement: Speech that is intended and likely to incite imminent lawless action is not protected.
  • True Threats: Statements meant to communicate a serious expression of intent to commit an act of unlawful violence to a particular individual or group are not covered by free speech protections.

Are there Federal Anti-SLAPP Laws

Currently, the United States does not have a federal Anti-SLAPP law, resulting in a mix of state-level protections that differ greatly from one state to another.

 

Some states, like California and Texas, have strong laws to protect against SLAPP suits, but others provide no such protections. This variation means that the legal outcomes for individuals facing SLAPP suits can depend significantly on their location or where the lawsuit is filed.

 

There have been attempts to pass a federal Anti-SLAPP law to ensure uniform protection for free speech across all states. Advocates believe such a law is essential, particularly as online communications can spread quickly across state lines, influencing national discussions.

Arizona’s Anti-SLAPP Laws Vs. Other States

Arizona's Anti-SLAPP laws protect public participation by requiring individuals to show a prima facie case that a lawsuit against them is motivated by a desire to inhibit their constitutional rights. Expedited hearings and potential recovery of legal fees discourage frivolous lawsuits.

 

In contrast, California’s Anti-SLAPP statute is broader, protecting all forms of speech related to public issues and allowing for recovery of damages if a lawsuit is deemed frivolous.

 

Texas also offers strong protections but focuses specifically on communication about public concerns. Meanwhile, Florida’s Anti-SLAPP laws are more restrictive, mainly protecting free speech related to government proceedings and offering less comprehensive mechanisms for the expedited processing of motions and fee recovery. 

 

Feature Arizona California Texas Florida
Scope of Protection Broad, covers public issues and government participation Very broad, covers all speech acts in connection with public issues Broad, focuses on public concerns Limited, mainly on government functions
Burden of Proof On the movant to show prima facie case On the movant to show speech is protected On the movant to show communication pertains to public concern Varies
Expedited Hearings Required Required Required Not explicitly required
Recovery of Legal Fees Yes, if motion succeeds Yes, if motion succeeds and can claim damages for frivolous suits Yes, if motion succeeds Limited, not as broadly applicable
Protection Against Discovery Yes, discovery is stayed upon filing Yes, discovery is stayed upon filing Yes, discovery is stayed upon filing Discovery rules vary

Contact us today to schedule a
FREE CONSULTATION and learn
how we can help you.

How Does Filing an Anti-SLAPP Motion Work in Arizona

In Arizona, filing an Anti-SLAPP motion is a legal strategy designed to protect individuals from lawsuits that are meant to discourage their lawful exercise of constitutional rights. Here is a detailed guide on how this process functions in Arizona, based on the relevant sections of the Arizona Revised Statutes:

  • Filing the Motion

    • Any person, other than a state actor or an intervenor, involved in a legal action that affects their right to free speech, press, assembly, or association under the U.S. or Arizona Constitution may file a motion to dismiss or quash the action (A.R.S. § 12-752(A)).
    • The motion must be filed within sixty days after being served with the complaint or, in some cases, later if the court agrees (A.R.S. § 12-752(D)).

  • Burden of Proof

    • The person filing the motion (the moving party) must provide prima facie proof that the lawsuit was substantially motivated by an intent to deter or retaliate against their constitutional rights. This proof can be based on the legal record, a sworn affidavit, or other evidence submitted with the motion (A.R.S. § 12-752(B)).

  • Court Proceedings

    • If prima facie proof is established, the court is required to stay all discovery activities until a decision on the motion is made (A.R.S. § 12-752(E)).
    • The court will then conduct an expedited evidentiary hearing or consider the pleadings and affidavits to determine whether the lawsuit is unjustified under clearly established law (if the respondent is a state actor) or lacks a reasonable basis in law (if the respondent is not a state actor) (A.R.S. § 12-752(C)).

  • Decision and Recovery

    • If the court grants the motion to dismiss or quash, it can award costs and reasonable attorney fees to the moving party, which includes a wide range of expenses associated with defending against the SLAPP (A.R.S. § 12-752(F)).
    • Conversely, if the motion is found to be frivolous or intended to delay, the court must award costs and attorney fees to the prevailing party (A.R.S. § 12-752(F)).

  • Appeal Process

    • An order granting or denying the motion is appealable under section 12-2101 (A.R.S. § 12-752(H)).

  • Additional Considerations

    • The outcome of the motion, whether granted or denied, does not affect the admissibility of evidence or the burden of proof in any later stage of the case or in any subsequent legal action (A.R.S. § 12-752(G)).

state actor representing government entity

Who are "State Actors" Under Arizona Law

In Arizona, the term "state actor" refers to entities and individuals who are part of or represent the state government, its various subdivisions, or any of its official capacities. Here is a concise breakdown of who qualifies as a state actor under Arizona law:

 

  1. Government Entities: This includes the state of Arizona itself and any of its subdivisions such as counties, cities, towns, and other political entities within the state.

  2. Government Branches and Departments: All branches, departments, boards, bureaus, commissions, councils, or committees that operate as part of the state or its subdivisions are considered state actors.

  3. Government Officials and Employees: Individuals who are officers, employees, or agents acting for any of the above-mentioned entities in their official roles are also classified as state actors. This includes not just high-ranking officials but also regular government employees performing their duties.

These definitions ensure that actions taken by these entities and individuals in their official capacities are subject to legal standards that may differ from those applied to private citizens or organizations.

How a Criminal Defense Attorney Can Help

When faced with a SLAPP suit, the expertise of a criminal defense attorney is crucial. Josh Kolsrud and his team at Kolsrud Law Offices specialize in defending such cases, providing essential support to individuals targeted to be silenced through legal intimidation.

 

Here’s how a criminal defense attorney can assist in a SLAPP suit:

 

  1. Early Dismissal: An experienced attorney can quickly recognize a SLAPP suit and act swiftly to get it dismissed. They apply their knowledge of state-specific Anti-SLAPP laws to demonstrate that the lawsuit aims to suppress the defendant’s free speech.

  2. Legal Guidance: An attorney offers clear guidance on legal rights and defense strategies, ensuring that the defendant fully understands each step of the legal process.

  3. Cost Recovery: Anti-SLAPP laws often allow for the recovery of attorney fees and court costs. A lawyer can argue for these expenses to be covered by the plaintiff, easing the financial impact on the defendant.

  4. Protecting Rights: A defense attorney focuses on protecting their client’s rights to free speech and participation in public affairs, which are essential for a healthy democracy.

Josh Kolsrud and his team at Kolsrud Law Offices are equipped to handle these sensitive cases, ensuring that their clients are defended effectively. Contact us today at (602) 638-3790 to set up a free initial consultation with one of our defense attorneys.

 

An award-winning criminal defense attorney Since 2006

Why Choose Josh Kolsrud

With over 100 trials to his name, and years of experience as a state and federal prosecutor, Josh understands the law, the legal process, and your rights. Josh is also committed to representing every client with utmost integrity and dedication

icon1

Experience

Josh has prosecuted major crimes on the state and federal level, led a successful anti-human sex trafficking operation that saved lives, and argued before countless juries and justices for his clients

icon2

Expertise

Josh is an expert in both Arizona and federal criminal law, and is ready to put that expertise to work for you.

icon3

Dedication

As a prosecutor, Josh saw far too many defendants lose their livelihood due to poor representation. Josh will always give every client his complete attention and effort

Get a Free Initial Consultation:

Complete our form below to get a free case review.
or call us at (480) 999-9444.