Wednesday, May 25, 2005
Michigan Court of Appeals Upholds Dismissal of Defamation Suit, Reverses Sanctions Against Plaintiff
A Michigan plaintiff has lost his appeal against a slate of tv stations in a defamation lawsuit but won the appeal for a reversal of the sanctions imposed by the trial court. In George v. Senate Democratic Fund, a physician running for state senate had objected to a campaign ad running on several Kalamazoo-area tv stations that suggested that because his medical practice did not take Blue Cross insurance he would be an unfortunate choice for the legislature. The plaintiff's campaign aid called the opponent's campaign office and "demand[ed] that the advertisement be pulled within fifteen minutes, issu[ed] press releases denouncing the advertisement, [held] a press conference, and [ran] an advertisement defending himself and attack[ed] LaForge in the Kalamazoo Gazette ....Notwithstanding the advertisement, plaintiff won the election."
The trial court "determined as a matter of law that the gist or sting of the advertisement was not defamatory..." and "[p]laintiff conceded that he sustained no actual monetary loss or mental or emotional distress, though he did claim general irritation and concern for his reputation as a physician." Dr. George asserted however that this action involved "defamation per se" because "it concerned plaintiff's profession or employment. We disagree. MCL 600.2911(1) specifically mentions and makes "actionable" two specific types of common law defamation per se: "[w]ords imputing a lack of chastity" and "words imputing the commission of a criminal offense." Defamation regarding one's business or profession is not made specifically actionable, and is therefore governed by the remainder of MCL 600.2911. MCL 600.2911(2)(a) and (b) limit recovery to actual damages, unless the plaintiff gives notice to publish a retraction and allows a reasonable amount of time to do so. Here, plaintiff did not request a retraction....Further, plaintiff demanded that defendant take action within fifteen minutes....
"We conclude, however, that the court erred in imposing sanctions on plaintiff and his attorney for filing this action in violation of MCR 2.111(D)(2)....The court concluded that the action was not warranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law...."
The appellate court found that since the plaintiff's argument "rests on the legal and factual premises that Michigan recognizes defamation by implication" and that the advertisement actually made certain implications that might have suggested conclusions to its viewers that the defendants knew were false, and that the plaintiff did suffer "adequate damages" according to a prior Michigan case, "none of these positions lacked factual support or were unwarranted by existing law or a good-faith argument for the extension, modification or reversal of existing law."
Read the entire decision here.