Requirements for a Defamation Claim

A claim for defamation can be shown when “One who publishes a false and defamatory communication concerning a private person . . . is subject to liability, if, but only if, he (a) knows that the statement is false and it defames the other, (b) acts in reckless disregard of these matters, or (c) acts negligently in failing to ascertain them.” Rowland v. Union Hills Country Club, 157 Ariz. 301, 306, 757 P.2d 105, 110 (App. 1988), quoting Restatement (Second) of Torts § 580(B) (1977). The statements may also concern a public figure if they refer to a private matter. Each of these elements must be shown to show a valid claim for defamation.

Many of these elements are examined in the case of Dube v. Likins, 216 Ariz. 406, 167 P.3d 93(App. 2007). Dube, A former graduate student at the University of Arizona, brought a defamation claim against the Mr. Likins, President of the university, along with several other university officials. Likins had sent several letters to a professor at the university, including references to Dube’s “transgressions” and “indiscretion”. The trial court dismissed Dube’s claim for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted.

On appeal, after determining that Dube had brought the claim within a the statue of limitations, the court first examined whether these communication were “published”, noting that publication is generally any communication to a third party. The court noted a split of authority on whether internal communications between two agents of the same principle were considered published before deciding that these communications are publications for defamations purposes, even when they occur within the scope of employment.

The statements would be considered defamatory if they were false and brought the defamed person into disrepute, contempt, or ridicule, or impeached the plaintiff’s honesty, integrity, virtue, or reputation. The statements must also be either factual or an opinion that implies facts. Likin’s statements that Dube had committed transgressions or indiscretion could satisfy this criteria. Whether Dube had in fact committed a transgression or indiscretion could be proved false, making it possibly defamatory. The existence of negligence regarding the falsehood of the claim was also sufficiently alleged by Dube’s claim that Likins ignored his obligations to conduct an investigation into a violation which was falsely blamed on Dube.

In a future post, we will discuss the possible defenses to an allegation of defamation.

Chernoff Law handles civil litigation cases throughout Arizona, including defamation claims. Contact us by calling 480-719-7307 to discuss your real estate matters.