Defamation and Calls for Resignation

Letter asking for resignation was not defamatory, court rules.

Church Law and Tax 1996-01-01

Libel and Slander

Key point. Statements made to others concerning a matter of common interest are protected by a “qualified privilege,” meaning that they cannot be defamatory unless made with malice. Statements are made with legal malice if they are made with a knowledge that they are false, or with a reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity.

A New York court ruled that the president of a religious organization was not defamed by a letter written by the organization’s leaders asking him to resign. The letter, which was written by some of the trustees of the organization, discussed certain actions taken by the president and called upon him to resign. The letter was sent to other trustees. The president sued the trustees who wrote the letter, claiming that they had defamed him. The court ruled that the letter was protected by a “qualified privilege” from being defamatory. It observed: “A qualified privilege extends to a communication made by one person to another upon a subject in which both have an interest.” Statements that are protected by a qualified privilege cannot be defamatory unless they are made with legal “malice,” meaning they were made with a knowledge that they were false or with a reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity. The court concluded that there was no evidence that the trustees who signed the letter had acted with malice and accordingly the statements in their letter were protected by the qualified privilege and were not defamatory. Kamerman v. Kolt, 621 N.Y.S.2d 97 (A.D. 2 Dept. 1994). [ Defamation—Defenses]

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