Finally, some welcomed news from the General Assembly.
By a vote of 30-2, Rep. Nima Kulkarni’s HB 222 has received passage in the Senate.
Kentucky will at long last join the growing majority of states that have already adopted anti-Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (anti-SLAPP) laws aimed at “providing defendants a way to quickly dismiss meritless lawsuits filed against them for exercising their First Amendment rights. These laws aim to discourage the filing of SLAPP suits and prevent them from imposing significant litigation costs and chilling protected speech.”
Kentucky’s courts have acknowledged the need for a Kentucky anti-SLAPP law in recent years.
In March, 2022, the Kentucky Supreme Court threw out a lawsuit filed by a developer who demanded $12 million from neighbors who sued to stop a 363,000-square-foot retail center in their backyard.
Residents opposing the SouthPointe Commons project argued that if the developer prevailed, their constitutional right to petition the government by challenging the land-use change would be chilled.
The Court unanimous opinion stressed the importance of the First Amendment right of the protesting homeowners to present grievances concerning the zoning change to the government.
Thirty-three states, the Supreme Court noted, already have anti-SLAPP laws.
The Supreme Court expressly referenced Kulkarni’s bill in its March 24 opinion, observing, “House Bill 222 would create new KRS sections that establish procedures for dismissing legal actions filed in response to a party’s exercise of free speech, right to petition, or right to association. The proposed legislation would also allow a party to appeal, as a matter of right, any order granting or denying a motion to dismiss filed in conjunction with this statute.”
In a 2020 opinion, City of Taylorsville officials were harshly admonished by the Kentucky Court of Appeals for suing a local critic, and frequent open records requester, for compensatory and punitive damages, in what was widely recognized as a SLAPP. Affirming the Spencer Circuit Court’s circuit court’s dismissal of the city’s lawsuit, the court declared, “the government can use the ORA as a shield; it cannot use it as a sword.”
Advocates of a Kentucky anti-SLAPP law regularly cite this 2020 case.
We celebrate this hard fought victory for Rep. Kulkarni and for the Commonwealth.