In an opinion today in the long-running defamation case brought by Sarah Palin against the New York Times (see our coverage here), Judge Rakoff ruled that an expansion of New York’s anti-SLAPP law last month was retroactive, and hence was governing in the case.
Sate anti-SLAPP laws generally give special protections to defendants sued for exercising free speech rights, often by allowing for early dispositive motions, fee-shifting, and heightened standards of proof. New York’s anti-SLAPP law until recently applied only to cases involving public applications or permits, but a statute passed in November expanded the law – including the requirement of proving actual malice by clear and convincing evidence – to reach any claim arising from speech on matters of public interest.
Judge Rakoff concluded that the new law applied to case at hand because, under New York law, “remedial” legislation is given retroactive effect:
It is clear that [the amendment] is a remedial statute that should be given retroactive effect. The Legislature conveyed a sense of urgency by directing that the amendment was to “take effect immediately.” Moreover, the legislative history demonstrates that the amendments . . . were intended to correct the narrow scope of New York’s prior anti-SLAPP law. As State Senator Brad Hoylman, the Senate sponsor of the amendments, explained: the prior anti-SLAPP law had been “strictly limited to cases initiated by persons or business entities that are embroiled in controversies over a public application or permit, usually in a real estate development situation . . . By revising the definition of an ‘action involving public petition and participation,’ this amendment . . . will better advance the purposes that the Legislature originally identified in enacting New York’s anti-SLAPP law” — namely, “to provide the utmost protection for the free exercise or speech, petition, and association rights, particularly where such rights are exercised in a public forum with respect to issues of public concern.”