The Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act?was passed on?April 22, 2014,?on the 125th anniversary of the Oklahoma 1889 Land Run, Gov. Mary Fallin signed the Act, and it became law on November 1, 2014. The Act gives Oklahomans valuable protections in the exercise of their First Amendment rights. From the bill:
“The purpose of the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act is to encourage and safeguard the constitutional rights of persons to petition, speak freely, associate freely and otherwise participate in government to the maximum extent permitted by law and, at the same time, protect the rights of a person to file meritorious lawsuits for demonstrable injury.”
The Act provides an early dismissal mechanism for meritless cases filed out of retaliation for one?s exercise of First Amendment rights. If a lawsuit is based on or relates to the exercise of the right of free speech, the exercise of the right of petition, or the exercise of the right of association, the statute applies. Once a defendant demonstrates that the statute applies, a court must dismiss the case unless the plaintiff can present clear and specific evidence of a prima facie case of each element of the plaintiff?s cause of action. If the plaintiff cannot meet that burden, the case is dismissed and the court must award attorney?s fees and sanctions against the plaintiff. Likewise, if the court finds that the motion to dismiss was frivolous or filed solely to create delay, sanctions and attorney?s fees can be awarded against a defendant who files a frivolous motion. ?However, just losing the motion to dismiss is not grounds for awarding attorney’s fees against a defendant who files a motion to dismiss pursuant to the Act.
The purpose of a SLAPP suit is to chill the defendant?s speech through costly and emotionally exhausting litigation. SLAPPs (?strategic lawsuits against public participation?) are civil claims or counterclaims filed against individuals or organizations based on their communications about issues of public interest or concern. Oklahoma legislators recognized the need for an anti-SLAPP law to help put an end to litigants using the legal system to retaliate against citizens for exercising their constitutional rights.
The Act is similar to anti-SLAPP statutes in other states, including the Texas Citizens Participation Act. ?This is important because the Texas version of the anti-SLAPP law has been found to apply in federal court as well. With no federal anti-SLAPP statute on the books, it is likely that federal courts in Oklahoma will also?limit the ability of plaintiffs to escape the requirements of the Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act by filing in federal court.