Environmental groups play an important role in the enforcement of environmental law and the protection of the public interest in environmental matters. There are, of course, a large number of these groups, each with its own mission and activities. In carrying out their work, these organizations certainly face their share of challenges.
One growing challenge environmental groups are facing is litigation designed to discourage them from seeking legal remedies for harm to the public. These lawsuits are sometimes classified as SLAPP litigation—strategic lawsuits against public participation. The specific allegations vary, but often include claims libel or slander. In some cases, the claims are unmeritorious; in other cases, they place legal and financial barriers for environmental group.
SLAPP lawsuits can negatively impact not only environmental groups, but also consumers, employees and reporters. From the standpoint of the businesses who file these lawsuits, the issue is damage to their reputation and finances. For the public, though, these lawsuits serve to intimidate the public from taking action to protect their legal rights.
Many states have passed laws to protect the public from SLAPP litigation, including Georgia. According to the Public Participation Project, Georgia’s anti-ALAPP law passed its first anti-SLAPP protection in 1996, and then strengthened it last year to include a wider range of speech and petition activity.
The law requires plaintiffs filing legal claims arising from statements made before a government body, or in connection with a matter to be reviewed by a government body, to file a verification that the claim is made in good faith.
In our next post, we’ll look a bit more at this topic, and how an experienced attorney can help ensure that groups that pursue environmental litigation are not unfairly targeted by businesses from participating in the protection of public rights under environmental law.
Bloomberg BNA, “Green Groups: Suits to Silence Them on the Rise,” Peter Hayes, April 14, 2017.