Contact an Attorney

New Jersey Enacts the Uniform Public Expression Act to Protect First Amendment Rights Against Meritless Lawsuits

By Lucia Wa Yang, Esq.

Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPP) have historically been used against journalists, academics, advocates, and whistleblowers, among others, to try to prevent them from publicly criticizing or raising issues that may expose individuals or entities with greater power or resources. On September 7, 2023, New Jersey adopted its own anti-SLAPP law, and became the sixth state to specifically enact strong protections based on the Uniform Law Commission’s “Uniform Public Expression Protection Act.” See S.2802, 2023 Leg., Reg. Sess. (NJ. 2023).

The newly enacted Uniform Public Expression Protection Act (the “Act”), which became effective on October 7, 2023, provides an expedited process for dismissal of SLAPP. Specifically, the Act, subject to certain enumerated exceptions, applies to causes of action asserted against an individual or entity based on his/her/its:

  • communication in a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative, or other governmental proceeding;
  • communication on an issue under consideration or review in a legislative, executive, judicial, administrative, or other governmental proceeding; or
  • exercise of the right of freedom of speech or of the press, the right to assembly or petition, or the right of association, guaranteed by the United State Constitution or the New Jersey Constitution, on a matter of public concern.

Id., at §§2b, 2c. The Act creates the opportunity for a party to file an Order to Show Cause to dismiss the cause of action, or part of a cause of action, within 60 days after service with pleadings, or at a later time on a showing of good cause. Id., at §3.

After establishing that the communication at issue falls into the scope of protection of the Act, the Court shall dismiss with prejudice the cause of action, or part thereof, if the responding party fails to establish a prima facie case as to each essential element of the cause of action; or the moving party establishes that (i) the responding party failed to state a cause of action upon which relief can be granted; or (ii) there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law on the cause of action or part of the cause of action. §7a of the Act. (emphasis added).

In addition to an easier standard to meet to have a cause of action dismissed with prejudice, the Act provides other means of protection to eligible defendants. For example, the court may order a stay of relevant proceedings after an Order to Show Cause is filed, with limited exceptions. See Id., at §4a. The Act provides that court shall award reasonable attorneys’ fees and expenses incurred in connection with the Order to Show Cause and any related hearing to the moving party, if the moving party prevails. See Id., at §10. Moreover, a moving party may appeal as a matter of right from an order denying, in whole or in part, an Order to Show Cause within 20 days after the entry of order. See Id., at §9. (emphasis added).

The Act took effect on October 7, 2023, and shall apply to a civil action filed or cause of action asserted in a civil action on or after the effective date. See Id., at §14.

See How Epstein Ostrove Can Help You

Book A Consultation

Fill out our quick form and our team will get in touch with you for a consultation.