Law School Case Brief
Cuenca v. Safeway S.F. Emps. Fed. Credit Union - 180 Cal. App. 3d 985, 225 Cal. Rptr. 852 (1986)
Cal. Civ. Code § 47(3) provides, in pertinent part, that a privileged publication is one made in a communication, without malice, to a person interested therein, by one who is also interested. The conditional privilege created by § 47(3) is lost if the privilege is abused or if the publication was motivated by malice. "Interested persons" within the meaning of § 47(3) have been defined as a communicator and a recipient with a common interest, although to be protected the communication must be one reasonably calculated to further that interest. Communications made in a commercial setting relating to the conduct of an employee have been held to fall squarely within the qualified privilege for communications to interested persons.
Respondent credit union fired appellant employee based on a confidential report prepared by a supervisory committee responsible under federal regulations for conducting audits. The report was distributed at a meeting of the board of directors, and following the meeting, all copies of the report were collected and locked up. Appellant filed this action for defamation. After a jury verdict in favor of appellant, the Superior Court of Santa Clara County (California) granted a new trial and then granted respondent's motion for summary judgment. Appellant employee sought review.
Did the trial court err when it concluded that the qualified privilege applied to the alleged defamation?
The court held that the conditional privilege of § 47(3) was applicable because the matters in the report were all directly relevant to appellant's fitness as manager and as such were matters of direct interest to respondent. Moreover, the trial court ruled correctly that appellant failed to establish a triable issue of fact as to whether respondent acted with an improper motive which would have vitiated the privilege.
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