As the old adage says, words cant actually cause physical harm to a person. Most people in the country are aware that the criminal and civil justice systems permit recourse for any physical harm that befalls us. It is simpler to prove to a court that you have been physically harmed. It is often much more complicated to show that you have suffered from emotional harm or that your reputation has been damaged. Still, when a plaintiff can show that they have suffered from this more abstract type of harm, the civil justice system seeks to protect their interest in compensation. Common civil suits in this area include those proving defamation and slander. The Fourth District Court of Appeals recently upheld the standard of proof required for a defamation case.
Three years ago a University of San Diego law school professor engaged in an activity that many professors do these days: he wrote a blog. The professor, Shaun Martin, maintained a blog about disability law. One particular blog article was written about a woman named Melanie Welch. Welch was a former teacher who applied to obtain disability retirement benefits. Welchs application came after students in Oakland physically attacked her, in a presumably traumatizing event back in 1998. The court found that Welch did not qualify for disability benefits. Martin took up the topic and wrote on his blog that the legal principle for deciding Welchs case and, ultimately, denial of her claim, was correct. Welch found a total of six statements on Martins California Appellate Report defamatory.
The trial court dismissed the defamation suit based on a statute commonly known as the Anti-SLAPP statute. Anti-SLAPP statutes are more formally known as statutes intended to prevent strategic lawsuits against public participation. A panel of three judges agreed with the opinion articulated by the trial court. The appeals court wrote, We conclude that the trial court correctly found that Welch had not shown the minimal merit necessary to avoid having her complaint stricken under the anti-SLAPP statute because the alleged defamatory statements were either protected by the fair and true report privilege and/or were non-actionable statements of opinion rather than statements of facts. Essentially, the trial court upheld two common principles of free speech, with nothing in his statements proving defamation. First, statements of facts cannot be considered defamatory or slanderous. Second, free speech protects opinions that do not damage reputation. Professor Martin commented on the dismissal of the defamation suit, stating that he was confident the courts would get it right and… am grateful they did.
Finding that a trial court has agreed with you only to learn that your case will be appealed can be a frustrating experience. The time, money, and patience that goes into a civil appeal can feel overwhelming. For this reason and many others, it is critical to have an experienced appellate attorney by your side. Whether you find yourself entangled in a standard criminal appeal or one with unique circumstances, our team at Brownstone Law has the knowledge and experience to successfully see you through the process. Contact us today for a free consultation.
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