Monday, July 17, 2017

Who are you?

Gossip is not nice
The other day I was perusing the Drudge Report and found an article that noted that Steve Curry would not visit the White House if he were invited.  The first thought I had was "Who does this Steve Curry guy think he is?"  I'm guessing he's in starlet mode or is someone who thinks he's more important than he is.  Thing is, while I don't really care about who he is (or who he thinks he is) he did remind me of a person I was talking to a while back.

Seems Person wanted to sue a former friend for defamation. For those not in the know, Defamation is an umbrella action that covers both libel (written) and slander (spoken), which is defined as
Oral defamation exists when someone tells one or more persons an untruth about another, which untruth will harm the reputation of the person defamed.  Slander is a civil wrong (tort) and can be the basis for a lawsuit.
What happened was former friend told another former friend some juicy gossip that Person was sleeping with someone not their husband.  Person got angry, told former friend they were no longer friends and was now standing in front of me asking what she can look at to sue former friend.

See, here is where things get complicated because this turned out to be not just a "simple" defamation case.  Person thinks she is a starlet/public figure.  Never actually starred in any movies but she did play the part of Annie in a play in high school.  That counts for something, right?!  In her mind, it does and so with much flair she is seeking damages to her reputation as a chaste and moralistic member of the community.

The reason I bring this up is that false statements dealing with people like you and me are treated differently than with people who are public figures.  There are actually two categories of public figures.  

The Limited-Purpose Public Figure.  Limited-Purpose Public Figures are individuals who "have thrust themselves to the forefront of particular controversies in order to influence the resolution of the issues involved."  That was not Person.  She craved the limelight all the time.

The second category includes the All-Purpose Public Figure. All-Purpose Public Figures are private individuals who occupy "positions of such persuasive power and influence that they are deemed public figure for all purposes...They invite attention and comment."  Gertz. v. Robert Welch, Inc.418 U.S. 323, 345 (1972).  So, does playing Annie in high school warrant "power and influence"?  It did in her mind and she was running with it.

So, because Person concluded she was public figure, in order to collect, she would have to show the statements were stated with actual malice.  Actual Malice occurs when:

  • The defendant publishes a statement about the plaintiff they know is false; or
  • The defendant publishes a statement about the plaintiff with reckless disregard for whether it is false or true.
Anyway, because Person doesn't have a clue about Defamation or Slander or damages relating to public figures, I suggest Person start looking at:
With an understanding of Slander under her belt, Person was prepared to move on to more practical resources and develop her complaint.  So, I suggested she take a look at:
The thing with gossip and defamation is that things are not always as them seem.  Most times, gossip has a hint of truth. So, while Person was flying on cloud nine with the prospects of reaping mountains of cash from her former friend, I also suggested she look at:
See, TRUTH is an absolute defense in any defamation action.  Of course, this made Person swallow her tongue and turn a variety of colors.  I'm guessing that maybe Person didn't have the iron clad case she thought she had judging by the way she slunked out the front door.


Regardless, when next you find your gaggle of friends aren't so friendly anymore, know that your local county law library has what you need to help get back at those who did you wrong.  In the very least, come share your stories so I'll have something to blog about.