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Immuno A.G. v. Moor-Jankowski - 74 N.Y.2d 548, 549 N.Y.S.2d 938, 549 N.E.2d 129 (1989)

Rule:

Pure opinion, however misguided or vituperative, is entitled to the absolute protection of the state and federal constitutional free speech guarantees. 

Facts:

Defendant Dr. J. Moor-Jankowski, a professor of medical research, is cofounder and editor of a scientific journal. The journal printed an opinion letter that was critical of a a plan by plaintiff, Immuno AG., a multinational corporation based in Austria that manufactures biologic products derived from blood plasma, to establish a facility for hepatitis research using chimpanzees. Immuno AG brought a defamation and tort action against the editor, Moor-Jankowski, based upon the journal's publication of that letter.  The trial court denied Defendant's motion for summary judgment dismissing the defamation claim, but granted Defendant's motion on the tort claim. The Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Judicial Department (New York) reversed the trial court's order in full and dismissed Immuno's complaint. Immuno sought further review.

Issue:

Was the expression of an opinion be subject of a private damage action?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The appellate court affirmed, concluding that the letter published in the journal was an expression of opinion that, false or libelous or not, was constitutionally protected and was not to be the subject of private damage actions. The court found that defendant's prefatory editorial note signaled that the letter was to be given only the weight its readers chose to accord the writer's views. The court held that any damage to reputation done by a letter to the editor depended on its inherent persuasiveness and the credibility of the writer, not on the belief that it was true because it appeared in a particular publication. The court concluded that extensive analysis established that plaintiff had raised no falsity of the threshold assertions of the writer's letter.

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