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Maine passes the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act

Effective January 1, 2025, Maine is subject to the Uniform Public Expression Protection Act, known as UPEPA. You can read a copy of this law here. UPEPA will replace Maine's previous anti-SLAPP law, which was limited to the right to petition and lacked procedural details. UPEPA will significantly expand free speech protections in Maine and also provide the great advantage of consistent interpretation with the other UPEPA states.

For those unfamiliar with anti-SLAPP laws such as UPEPA, these laws are designed to provide a person who has been sued for exercising their right to free speech the opportunity to seek early dismissal of the lawsuit. The aim is to prevent such a person from having to suffer the costs, expenses and psychological distress of an abusive lawsuit that will ultimately be dismissed in court anyway. Another way to think of anti-SLAPP laws is that they move the summary judgment motion to the beginning of the case, rather than the end of the evidentiary hearing, where such motions are typically made. For this reason, anti-SLAPP motions (including UPEPA motions) are sometimes considered a “motion to dismiss on steroids.”

When passing uniform legislation, state legislatures often tinker with the proposed uniform law to address state-specific concerns. This tinkering results in something known as Inconsistent provisions. A quick look at the statute shows that Maine has made little such manipulation, merely adding the following provision to expand the scope of the Maine UPEPA's protections:

“Written or oral statement in connection with a discrimination complaint under the Maine Human Rights Act or any written or oral statement in connection with a complaint under Title 20-A, Chapter 445 or the so-called Title IX provisions of the Federal Education Amendments of 1972, Public Law 92-318.

This speech was probably protected under the UPEPA's general freedom of expression, but it does not harm the act. Otherwise, it does not appear (again at first glance) that Maine has made any other significant changes to the text of the UPEPA. This makes Maine’s implementation of UPEPA perhaps the cleanest of all implementations to date.

The 2024 legislative year could prove to be an important year for the passage of UPEPA, as approximately ten more states are considering this uniform law. In addition to Maine, states that have already adopted UPEPA include Hawaii, Kentucky, New Jersey, Utah and Washington. Oregon also amended its own organic anti-SLAPP law to closely align with UPEPA. California, Texas, and New York, as well as several other states, have their own anti-SLAPP laws that predate UPEPA but function very similarly, although without the benefit of uniform interpretation.

Otherwise, UPEPA does exactly the job it was originally intended to do, namely to provide an out-of-the-box, state-of-the-art anti-SLAPP law for those states that do not already have such a law and to modernize the older or weaker anti-SLAPP laws. Laws of other states like Maine. More such states will follow!

Anna Harden

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