PA House unanimously passes Bizzarro’s bill to curtail frivolous lawsuits

Proposal now moves to Senate for consideration

HARRISBURG, Oct. 5 – Following years of debate, a bill authored by state Rep. Ryan Bizzarro (D-Erie) that would finally help protect the people of Pennsylvania from meritless lawsuits and preserve free speech passed the House Thursday morning.

House Bill 1466 would address lawsuits filed against a person or organization for statements made or positions taken in connection with a matter of public interest or regulation. These lawsuits, known as Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation, or SLAPPs, are used to silence or deter critics by burdening them with the costs of a legal defense.

“There’s been a long history in Pennsylvania of people being threatened and served with lawsuits that have no legal merit and serve no purpose other than to intimidate and discourage defendants from engaging in an open debate on public issues,” said Bizzarro. “We’ve seen historic community organizations shut their doors because they couldn’t fight these unjustifiable claims. It’s time we help defend our citizens and take action to protect the right to free speech in Pennsylvania.”

Specifically, H.B. 1466 would create a process to quickly dismiss SLAPP lawsuits based upon protected speech through a motion to dismiss. If the motion is successful, defendants may recover attorney’s fees, costs and damages related to the action. Under this legislation, there is also a SLAPP back provision, so if a party invokes a SLAPP motion frivolously or solely to cause unnecessary delay, the court will award attorney’s fees and costs to the non-moving party.

“Individuals and organizations shouldn’t have to fear being slapped with a lawsuit simply because they voiced their opinions on a certain issue,” said Bizzarro. “Our bill will give these defendants the incentive and tools they need to fight these baseless lawsuits and continue their good work.”

Pennsylvania established limited protections from SLAPPs in 2000, but only in the area of environmental law and regulations.

House Bill 1466, co-sponsored by Reps. Melissa Cerrato (D-Montgomery), Liz Hanbidge (D-Montgomery), Joe Hohenstein (D-Phila.), Tarik Khan (D-Phila.), Patrick Gallagher (D-Phila.), Lisa Borowski (D-Delaware) and Tim Brennan (D-Bucks), will be now sent to the Senate for consideration.