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June 14, 2012

A public officer must show that alleged false statements concerning him or her were made with actual malice to recover damages for defamation

A public officer must show that alleged false statements concerning him or her were made with actual malice to recover damages for defamation
Watson v Jamestown, 56 AD3d 1289


Michael J. Watson, a police officer, sued a number of police department officials, alleging, among other alleged wrongdoing, defamation.

Supreme Court granted summary judgment dismissing Watson’s complaints. The Appellate Division affirmed the lower court’s action.

Addressing Watson’s claim of defamation, the Appellate Division noted that "A public official [as a police officer, Watson was a public officer] may not recover damages for defamation unless the official proves that the offending false statement was made with actual malice -- that is, with knowledge that it was false or with reckless disregard of whether it was false or not," citing Freeman v Johnston, 84 NY2d 52.

In this instance, said the court, the officials being sued established “their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law with respect to that cause of action by demonstrating that the remarks that allegedly defamed [Watson] were true with the exception of one remark that was a misstatement but was not made with malice.”

The decision is posted on the Internet at:
http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2008/2008_09231.htm

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