Having actually read this bill, it is obvious to me the
proposal is clearly aimed at making the use of a SLAPP – strategic lawsuit
against public participation – unattractive. Moreover the bill addresses a narrow set of circumstances
(zoning matters) in which the SLAPP has been used.
I have seen a wealthy developer in my part of Michigan use
the SLAPP tactic to silence neighboring homeowner opposition to a project he
was pushing. It is ugly and nasty
business – a form of legal thuggery, pure and simple.
The malicious SLAPPs were dismissed, eventually, by the
court. The people whose right to
participate were maliciously attacked by this strategy had to defend themselves
and their right to participate in setting local government policy at their own
very real expense.
One need not be sympathetic to the objections raised by
neighboring property owners or others in cases like this to recognize that
SLAPP suits do real damage to public participation in resolving matters of
community interest and concern.
In no way does this legislation propose interference with
legitimate lawsuits arising from zoning issues and decisions, including legal
challenges to zoning ordinances themselves.
If nothing else, this kind of bill puts all of us on notice
that participation in community zoning decisions is not up for sale only to
those who can afford lawyers and lawsuits as a routine way of doing business. That is good public policy transcending all but the most extreme political philosophies.
HB 6394 won’t become law in this session of the Michigan
Legislature. But it is a proposal
that should be reintroduced and passed in the next session.