Getting “Slapped” with a SLAPP Suit?

Are you getting “slapped” with a SLAPP Suit? To start, a “S.L.A.P.P.” suit refers to “Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation” and both the Florida Condominium Act and HOA Act have prohibitions against these types of lawsuits.  But what does prohibitions against these types of suits really mean?  In short, a “SLAPP” suit in the context of this particular blog, refers to either a condo association or homeowner association filing a lawsuit against one of its members, for “speaking out” or “speaking against” the association in a public forum with the intent of having the individual member(s) give up his/her right to exercise free speech because of how expensive it can be to defend such a lawsuit (i.e., “litigation costs”).  Essentially, such types of lawsuits have been traditionally used as a scare tactic.  This typically is seen in the context of a member filing a complaint with the DBPR, Division of Florida Condominiums, Timeshares, and Mobile Homes, (Department of Business and Professional Regulation) and making statements against their association.  The DBPR will be considered a “governmental entity” within the meaning of the statute.  

The goal is to silence members for participation in anti-association propaganda with the governmental agency which regulates Florida condominiums.  So, if there are prohibitions associated with these types of lawsuits, how is it that they are still filed against a member?  The answer frequently stems from either (1) Board members engaging in unorthodox business practices; or (2) ignorance.  In either scenario, the outcome can prove costly to the community association who launched such a lawsuit.  That is because the consequences of filing such a lawsuit can result in the member’s entitlement to an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs incurred in defending the lawsuit. 

So if you are getting slapped with a SLAPP suit by a Condo Association or HOA, remember that there are several laws in place to protect against bullying and intimidation of individual members and their rights.  In Florida, this not only includes payment of the prevailing party’s attorney’s fees and costs, but also allows an association member to recover triple damages for if a court finds the complaint lacks merit. Contact Ferrer Law Group, today and we may be able to help.

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