The Rapid Evolution of Illinois’s Anti-SLAPP Statute

Vol. 30 No. 2

By

Debbie L. Berman is a partner and cochair, and Wade A. Thomson is a partner, with the media and First Amendment practice group at Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago. Leah K. Williams is an associate in the litigation department at Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago.

In the wake of the recent implementation of anti-SLAPP legislation in several states and Washington, D.C., Illinois provides an interesting—and at times cautionary—case study for judicial interpretation of such laws.

In 2007, Illinois enacted anti-SLAPP legislation titled the Illinois Citizen Participation Act (CPA).1 At its inception, the CPA appeared to provide a swift recourse for victims of SLAPP suits by allowing them to quickly dismiss a case upon showing that the defendant was engaged in a broad variety of First Amendment-protected speech and petitioning activity related to government. Early analysis of the CPA suggested that “based on the language of the CPA itself, and the few decisions to date, the CPA could be one of the strongest anti-SLAPP laws in the country.”2

Beginning in 2011, however, Illinois courts essentially rewrote part of the CPA so that it has become increasingly difficult for defendants to file a speedy motion to dismiss and freeze costly discovery, as the Illinois General Assembly intended. But the CPA remains a powerful tool to dispose of meritless lawsuits targeting First Amendment activity—not necessarily with a motion to dismiss, but through discovery, a motion for summary judgment, and a motion for recovery of mandatory attorney fees.

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