TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today signed the ‘Uniform Public Expression Protection Act’ to protect people from meritless lawsuits intended to intimidate them for exercising their free speech rights. Powerful entities and individuals often use lawsuits and litigation threats to punish and silence those who might speak unfavorably about them. The bipartisan legislation will enable defendants to seek the expedited dismissal of such lawsuits, commonly referred to as ‘Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation’ (SLAPP), which have historically been used against journalists, academics, advocates, and whistleblowers – among others

A SLAPP is generally used to silence individuals or organizations from publicly criticizing or bringing legitimate issues to light about an individual or entity with greater power and resources. 

“For far too long, the powerful have abused the justice system to suppress free speech through illegitimate lawsuits,” said Governor Murphy. “By pursuing meritless court cases, these powerful parties aim to silence their critics by making it impossible for those with fewer resources to spend the time and money necessary to legally defend themselves. This law will expedite the process to get these cases dismissed on behalf of the journalists, small businesses, activists, and countless others who have been unfairly targeted by these lawsuits over the years.” 

If a SLAPP is initiated, the bill (S-2802/A-4393) now allows eligible defendants to file paperwork requiring the plaintiff to demonstrate the basis for the lawsuit and requiring the court to consider the issues in an expeditious manner. This process will enable these kinds of cases to be dismissed quickly, and at less expense to the defendant, rather than being drawn out in court.

In addition to the expedited timeline, other related legal proceedings may be paused until the request for an expedited dismissal is resolved. The bill also allows defendants in some cases to recover legal fees if the lawsuit is dismissed. 

“People should be able to speak their mind on the issues that matter most to them without the fear of becoming ensnared in an expensive, time-consuming lawsuit,” said First Assistant Attorney General Lyndsay V. Ruotolo. “The law signed by Governor Murphy today makes it much more difficult to use the legal system as a weapon, with the intent to bully individuals into silence. New Jersey is proud to become the latest state to enact a law that discourages, and creates a streamlined process to dismiss, baseless lawsuits that improperly target the lawful exercise of free speech.”

With this bill signing, New Jersey joins a host of other states in adopting an anti-SLAPP law and becomes the sixth state to specifically enact particularly strong protections based on the Uniform Law Commission’s ‘Uniform Public Expression Protection Act.’

Sponsors of the legislation include Senator Joseph Lagana and Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, as well as Senator Jon Bramnick and Assembly members Carol Murphy and Kevin J. Rooney.

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