Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Utah Supreme Court Rules on SLAPP lawsuit

The Utah Supreme Court on Tuesday issued a ruling in a case where two South Jordan women claimed Anderson Development Co. filed a SLAPP suit against them to intimidate them and keep them from speaking out against a proposed development. See Salt Lake Trb story.

SLAPP stands for Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. A few years ago, several states adopted legislation prohibiting SLAPP suits, because of perceived efforts by developers to file lawsuits against citizen opponents to projects in an attempt to intimidate them and keep them from meddling in their development approval process. Utah was one of those states. See the First Amendment Center description of such suits.

While the court decision was a split one, the key issues regarding the SLAPP provisions appear to have been decided in favor of the citizens. The high court remanded back to district court the issue of whether to award damages to the two citizens in their SLAPP act counterclaim against Anderson Development. Douglas Parry, attorney for the two citizens, said, "The significance of the justices leaving in the SLAPP suit is to let everyone know you can't bully the little person anymore. It has to do with Constitutional rights."

However, Michael Hutchings, attorney for Anderson, said, "This is not a victory for them. We believe the Supreme Court has clarified the law." Anderson added the developer continues to be open to a settlement.

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