Virginia Needs a Strong Anti-SLAPP Law to Stop Bogus Lawsuits

Virginia’s H.B. 759, introduced in the House of Delegates, would create a strong law to stop lawsuits in which the legal claims are just a pretext for silencing or punishing individuals who use their First Amendment rights to speak up on matters of public concern.

Such suits—called Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs—have become more common over the past few decades. At EFF, we have supported “anti-SLAPP” laws which allow speakers to quickly dismiss frivolous cases against them and often obtain attorney’s fees.

Virginia has a particular need for a strong anti-SLAPP law. In recent years, it’s become a magnet for questionable legal claims. Some recent examples—all from 2019—include cases like these:

  • U.S. Representative Devin Nunes, of Bakersfield, Calif., has filed several lawsuits in Virginia, seeking hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, including against CNN, his hometown newspaper, the Fresno (Calif.) Bee, Twitter, and two Twitter users who created the parody accounts @DevinCow and @DevinNunesMom.
  • Actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife Amber Heard for $50 million in Virginia after she published an op-ed in The Washington Post about domestic abuse.
  • A man sued a Charlottesville, Virginia weekly newspaper for publishing a news story about his support for preserving Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, as well as the reporter who wrote the story, and a University of Virginia professor who commented on the issue. The case was dismissed, but the judge would not consider the existing Virginia anti-SLAPP statute or treat the case as a SLAPP.
  • A San Francisco doctor sued her former customers, who complained about her shoddy work in online forums like Yelp, in Virginia.

H.B. 759, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, would set up a special procedure to determine when a case is a SLAPP, would ensure anti-SLAPP protections apply to a broad range of speakers, speech, and forums, and make sure that lawsuits can’t be used to bankrupt people for exercising their free speech rights.

Tell your lawmaker you want to pass H.B. 759, and protect free speech in Virginia.

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