Sen. Tipping bill to protect against harmful frivolous lawsuits becomes law

Posted: April 16, 2024 | Senator Tipping

AUGUSTA — On April 13, a bill from Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Orono, became law. As amended, LD 870, “An Act to Strengthen Freedom of Speech Protections by Enacting the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act,” covers “any statement made in connection with an issue of public interest in a public forum or other place open to the public [and] any statement made in a media publication” with anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation)protections.

“Expanding anti-SLAPP protections in Maine will not only protect the rights of individuals and organizations to engage in public discourse, it will also promote a more robust and informed public debate on important issues,” said Sen. Tipping. “By better shielding people and media outlets from baseless, retaliatory lawsuits, Maine can create a more vibrant and democratic public sphere, lessen the burden on our courts, and make sure the justice system cannot be used as a weapon by the wealthy and the unethical. This new law will make a difference for Mainers who exercise their First Amendment rights.”

In August 2023, the Bangor Daily News published an article about Northern Light Health and the 15-year-old son of a former employee. Northern Light Health threatened to sue the former employee for defamation when the employee’s son, Samson Cournane, published his concerns about patient safety at a Bangor hospital. Cournane started a petition and gathered more than 750 signatures, in addition to writing a letter to editor in the University of Maine’s student newspaper. The Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression (FIRE) defended Cournane. In the article, Samson says, “It’s sad to see a hospital try to stop people from talking about important things, especially when my concerns were about patient safety.”

In Maine, the previous anti-SLAPP law provided protection only for individuals who are petitioning the government. LD 870 expands these protections for media outlets and public speech on public issues.

The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2025.