Friday, July 14, 2017

A claim of libel per se.

After the plaintiff installed a custom home theater system in the defendant's home, the defendant posted a review of the plaintiff's services on the Internet website Yelp.com. The plaintiff commenced this action, alleging that the review constituted libel per se. The defendant moved to dismiss, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7). The Supreme Court granted the defendant's motion, and the Appellate Division affirmed.

Practice point:  A libel action cannot be maintained unless it is premised on published assertions of fact.  Whether an allegedly defamatory statement constitutes actionable fact or nonactionable opinion is a question of law to be resolved by the courts. In resolving that question, rather than sifting through a communication for the purpose of isolating and identifying assertions of fact, the courts should consider the content of the communication as a whole, and look to the over-all context in which the assertions were made in order to determine  whether a reasonable reader would have believed that the challenged statements were conveying facts about the plaintiff.

Here, given the context in which the challenged statements were made, and viewing the content of the review as a whole, a reasonable reader would believe that the review's writer was a dissatisfied customer who was expressing an opinion.

Case:  Crescendo Designs, Ltd. v. Reses, NY Slip Op 05198 (2d Dep't June 28, 2017)

Here is the decision.

Monday's issue:  A defendant's cross-motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.