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Golub v. Enquirer/Star Group

Court of Appeals of New York

March 24, 1997, Argued ; May 13, 1997, Decided

No. 93


 [***836]   [*1075]   [**1282]  Memorandum.

The order of the Appellate Division dismissing the complaint should be affirmed, with costs.

A statement that plaintiffs' decedent, a public relations consultant, had cancer was published in the August 27, 1991, issue of defendant's publication "Star." Plaintiffs contend that the published statement about decedent having been diagnosed with cancer is defamatory in two respects. First, according to plaintiffs, the nature of cancer is so inextricably intertwined with [****2]  the thought of impending death that clients would lose confidence in the ability of plaintiffs' decedent to supply public [*1076]  relations services, thereby injuring her in her business. Alternatively, plaintiffs argue that cancer is, or has become associated with, a condition odious enough to drive away decedent's clients in disgust or fear. Plaintiffs put forth no proof of damages or actual harm resulting from the complained of publication.

As we stated in Aronson v Wiersma (65 NY2d 592),  [**1283]   [***837]  "[w]hether particular words are defamatory presents a legal question to be resolved by the court in the first instance … and if not reasonably susceptible of a defamatory meaning, they are not actionable and cannot be made so by a strained or artificial construction" id., at 593-594). Generally, ] a written statement may be defamatory "if it tends to expose a person to hatred, contempt or aversion, or to induce an evil or unsavory opinion of him in the minds of a substantial number of the community" Mencher v Chesley, 297 NY 94, 100). ] Even on a professional level, a defamatory meaning may attach to derogatory statements that would cause apprehension [****3]  about a person's ability to conduct business.

In that sense, the statement that plaintiffs' decedent had cancer did not defame her in her trade, business or profession. ] To be actionable as words that tend to injure another in his or her profession, the challenged statement must be more than a general reflection upon decedent's character or qualities. Rather, the statement must reflect on her performance or be incompatible with the proper conduct of her business (see, e.g., Liberman v Gelstein, 80 NY2d 429, 436; Aronson, 65 NY2d at, 594; Sanderson v Caldwell, 45 NY 398, 405 [words must "have such a relation to the profession or occupation of the plaintiff that they directly tend to injure him in respect to it"]). Here, however, the statement did not impugn, or even relate to, any particular talent or ability needed to perform in decedent's profession as a publicist.

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89 N.Y.2d 1074 *; 681 N.E.2d 1282 **; 659 N.Y.S.2d 836 ***; 1997 N.Y. LEXIS 761 ****; 25 Media L. Rep. 1863

Aaron R. Golub, as Executor of Chen Sam, Deceased, et al., Appellants, v. Enquirer/Star Group, Inc., Respondent.

Prior History:  [****1]  Appeal, by permission of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department, from an order of that Court, entered January 4, 1996, which (1) reversed, on the law, an order of the Supreme Court (Martin Schoenfeld, J.), entered in New York County, denying a motion by defendant for summary judgment, (2) granted the motion, and (3) dismissed the complaint.

Chen Sam v Enquirer/Star Group, 223 AD2d 360, affirmed.

Disposition: Order affirmed, with costs, in a memorandum.


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Torts, Intentional Torts, Defamation, Procedural Matters, General Overview, Defenses, Fair Comment & Opinion