On June 2, 2019, Governor Greg Abbott signed House Bill 2730 into law. The law creates substantial changes to the Texas Citizens Participation Act (hereinafter TCPA or Anti-SLAPP) and goes into effect on September 1, 2019. Anti-SLAPP laws were designed to protect Texans from frivolous lawsuits by allowing a court to dismiss a suit arising from a first amendment protected right listed in the TCPA. The overarching ramifications of Mr. Abbott signing this bill into law is that it narrows the scope of applicability for Anti-SLAPP suits which removes protections from citizens.

At this time, the language of an Anti-SLAPP motion states that legal action can be brought if, “it is based on, relates to[1], or is in response to a party’s exercise of the right of free speech, right to petition, or right of association.” However, H.B. 2730 has changed the language and removed the term “relate to” from the statute. This distinct alteration limits a defendant to dismiss a case only if it is based on or in response to the rights outlined in the TCPA; thereby limiting first amendment protections for Texans.

House Bill 2730 also provides new exemptions from Anti-SLAPP suits; such as, misappropriation of trade secrets, enforcement of non-disparagement agreements or covenant not to compete in an officer-director, employee-employer, or independent contractor relationship, family code cases, claims under the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act, and common law fraud claims. The exemptions, among other things, now restrict certain freedoms of speech by virtue of an employee-employer relationship; which were previously allowed under Anti-SLAPP motions. The consequences of this action grant greater power to employers who could potentially threaten and bankrupt employees in employment-related suits by economically throttling defendants with smaller bank accounts who cannot keep up with court fees.

As we continue to review the changes made to the Texas Anti-SLAPP statute, the overall ramifications of the language and narrowing of the TCPA may not be felt for several years. However, the first attack against Anti-SLAPP law has begun and while some of the more serious attempts to narrow the statute were removed from consideration, one can only imagine that another attempt will be made in the future to limit legal protections for Texans who choose to invoke their first amendment rights.

[1] Emphasis added