Law & Principles

Oklahoma legislation ‘ripe for abuse by litigious individuals’

May 10, 2024

Jonathan Small

In politics, there is often a gap between the stated intentions for legislation and the real-world consequences. That’s the case with a bill approved by the Oklahoma Legislature this year. What was touted as an effort to protect women from stalkers would instead allow typical Oklahomans to be sued for speaking out on political issues.

Senate Bill 1737 allows for civil lawsuits to be filed against individuals who violate Oklahoma’s existing anti-stalking law and/or state law regarding obscene communications. Sounds good, right?

But the language of the bill indicates its impact will not be limited to creeps stalking women.

For one thing, the legislation states that it “shall not be a prerequisite to pursue such action for relief that the defendant first be charged, prosecuted, or adjudicated guilty in criminal court” of any stalking crime or obscene communication.

So, you can be sued for activity that was never declared illegal.

Furthermore, SB 1737 states that lawsuits can be filed for a “business interruption,” including the loss of “intangible property”—such as alleged reputational harm. One law referenced in SB 1737 indicates potential business lawsuits could be filed against individuals for activity that would “annoy” someone.

Thus, laws designed to protect women from abusers were subtly shifted to potentially allow large companies to sue critics for “annoying” speech that business leaders considered harassing—even if no one was ever charged with stalking or sending obscene messages.

Obviously, with many large corporations embracing “woke” culture, this opens the door for large businesses to sue Oklahomans for a wide range of legally protected speech on political issues. Someone’s Facebook post criticizing a CEO’s political stances could potentially get them sued by a large corporation.

Those who doubt that could happen in Oklahoma should recall the case filed by Paycom, an $11 billion publicly traded payroll company, against the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs. In a 2020 article, we at OCPA noted Paycom CEO Chad Richison had advocated for draconian COVID policies. Paycom sued, claiming OCPA’s publishing this accurate information represented defamation and tortious interference. The company has managed to drag out this meritless lawsuit for four years so far.

The Paycom lawsuit shows companies already have the ability to use junk lawsuits to harass political conservatives for constitutionally protected free speech, but SB 1737 would have thrown open that door even wider and made it more likely many Oklahoma conservatives could be targeted.

Fortunately, Gov. Kevin Stitt vetoed SB 1737, noting the bill’s “language is ripe for abuse by litigious individuals and organizations.”

The governor made the right call, and Oklahomans should urge their local lawmakers to uphold the veto.

Businesses who suffer business harm as the result of a company’s embrace of “woke” politics don’t need protection. The free-speech rights of the average Oklahoman do.