Minnesota’s Anti SLAPP Statute Gets Clarification
Statute §§ 554.01-554.05 are considered Minnesota’s anti-SLAPP statutes. SLAPP stands for Strategic Litigation Against Public Participation. These anti-SLAPP laws allow defendant’s to file motions to dismiss against lawsuits that are filed in response to a citizen’s attempt to influence governmental projects. Examples for when an anti-SLAPP statute applies is when a person is sued for statements they make at a city council meeting or if someone makes statements or passes out information in opposition to a developmental project.
The theory behind anti-SLAPP statutes is that if people and citizens can get sued for speaking out for or against public politics than those people will be less likely to speak out and silence their freedom of speech; as SLAPP statutes protect a citizen’s right to participate in its government. Procedurally, usually how an anti-SLAPP statute works is after a complaint is brought against a defendant for comments they made publically while they were participating in some sort of government process, that defendant would then bring a motion to dismiss under Minnesota’s anti-SLAPP statutes. The procedural nature of anti-SLAPP statutes is somewhat confusing and unique. Once an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss is filed by the defendant, the burden of proof then falls on the party responding to the motion, therein the Plaintiff that filed the original lawsuit. The district court must grant the anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss unless the court finds that the plaintiff or “responding party” has produced clear and convincing evidence that the acts of the defendant or “moving party” are not immunized from liability under Section 554.03, a section of the anti-SLAPP statute. This is an interesting part of the statute because it requires the responding party the burden of producing clear and convincing evidence to defeat the anti-SLAPP motion, however, once an anti-SLAPP motion is filed all discovery is suspended. This procedural framework has caused much confusion in the courts when deciding these anti-SLAPP cases.
In the Minnesota Supreme Courts most recent decision of Leiendecker v. Asian Women United of Minnesota, the Supreme Court attempted to clarify some of this confusion. In the Leiendecker case the Plaintiffs, the Leiendeckers, brought a suit against Asian Women United of Minnesota alleging that Asian Women United of Minnesota had filed numerous previous lawsuits and maliciously prosecuted the Leiendeckers. In response, the Asian Women United of Minnesota filed an anti-SLAPP motion to dismiss at the District Court. The case eventually made its way up to the Minnesota Supreme Court and the Minnesota Supreme Court clarified the procedural issues with the anti-SLAPP statutes; mainly how to coincide the standard set in a summary judgment motion and the standard set in the anti-SLAPP statute. The court concluded that due to the anti-SLAPP statute, “the responding party carries 3 distinct burdens on the motion 1) the burden of proof, 2) the burden of production, and 3) the burden of persuasion. The burden or persuasion, in particular, describes the obligation to persuade the Trier of Fact of the truth of a proposition.” As such, the court went on to find that a court is required to dismiss the claim even in the face of genuine issues of material fact if the responding party has failed to carry is burden of persuasion. They highlight the difference of this standard to a summary judgment standard where if genuine issues and material fact exist, it precludes summary judgment.
In dismissing the Leiendeckers’ constitutional avoidance argument against the anti-SLAPP statutes the court found that the Leiendeckers had failed to meet the procedural requirement under the anti-SLAPP statute, which requires them to produce evidence to defeat the anti-SLAPP motion that was brought by Asian Women United of Minnesota. The court then reversed and remanded the case back down to the district court for further proceedings.