August 30, 2019

Suing for alleged defamation following the publication of an article concerning "official governmental activities"


New York's Civil Rights Law §74 shields publishers from civil liability for claims of defamation when the alleged defamatory statements are accurate reports about official government events and activities.*

Supreme Court denied Petitioner's motion to strike the Respondent's Civil Rights Law §74 defense** to allegations of defamation, holding that "Civil Rights Law §74 ... confers an absolute privilege on a fair and true report of any official proceeding."

Supreme Court also noted that "a newspaper article which relies upon the findings of an official proceeding [does not] lose the protection of the statute merely because its publication precedes release of the official findings. 

Indeed, observed the court, even the announcement of an investigation by a public agency, made before the formal investigation has begun, is protected as a report of an official proceeding within the contemplation of §74, as is a report of an ongoing investigation, as long as it is accurate"

In addressing Petioner's appeal challenging the Supreme Court's ruling concerning Respondent's §74 defense, the Appellate Division identified as covered by the rubric "official government activities" was an article that "hyperlinked a CNN article and the embedded dossier compiled by Christopher Steele, which included a confidential report containing the alleged defamatory statements" about Plaintiffs.

The Appellate Division, sustaining the Supreme Court's ruling, opined that the Plaintiffs "would have concluded that there were official proceedings, such as classified briefings and/or an FBI investigation concerning the dossier as a whole, including the confidential report relating to plaintiffs."

* Civil Rights Law§ 74 provides that "A civil action cannot be maintained against any person, firm or corporation for the publication of a fair and true report of any judicial proceeding, legislative proceeding or other official proceeding." The same is true with respect to "any heading of the report which is a fair and true headnote of the statement published."

** The Supreme Court's ruling is posted on the Internet at: http://www.nycourts.gov/reporter/pdfs/2018/2018_30834.pdf

The Appellate Division's decision is posted on the Internet at:

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