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Singer v. Beach Trading Co. - 379 N.J. Super. 63, 876 A.2d 885 (Super. Ct. App. Div. 2005)

Rule:

Defamation imposes liability for publication of false statements that injure the reputation of another. In order to prove defamation, a plaintiff must establish, in addition to damages, that the defendant (1) makes a defamatory statement of fact (2) concerning the plaintiff (3) which is false and (4) which is communicated to a person or persons other than the plaintiff. Fault must also be proven. 

Facts:

The employee was terminated by her new employer based on an intentionally misleading telephone inquiry her new employer made to her former employer. Her former supervisor erroneously responded to the misleading call, identifying the employee as a customer service representative and not the vice president of daily operations or a customer service supervisor. The employee sued her former employer and its customer service supervisor, alleging that they misrepresented her job with them when they provided an employment reference to her new employer. The complaint alleged defamation, tortious interference and negligent misrepresentation. The superior court granted summary judgment to defendants dismissing all counts. The employee appealed.

Issue:

Was summary judgment as to negligent misrepresentation proper?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

The appeals court affirmed the summary judgment on the defamation and tortious interference claims. The appeals court reversed the summary judgment on the negligent misrepresentation of a former employee's work history claim. It held that an employer can be held liable for the negligent misrepresentation of a former employee's work history if: (1) the inquiring party clearly identifies the nature of the inquiry; (2) the employer voluntarily decides to respond to the inquiry, and thereafter unreasonably provides false or inaccurate information; (3) the person providing the inaccurate information is acting within the scope of his/her employment; (4) the recipient of the incorrect information relies on its accuracy to support an adverse employment action against the plaintiff; and (5) plaintiff suffers quantifiable damages proximately caused by the negligent misrepresentation. The appeals court remanded the case for further proceedings to decide genuine issues of a material fact including whether new employer properly (1) disclosed the nature and purpose of his inquiry to subject defendants to a duty to properly respond and (2) justifiably relied on the information. There was the issue of whether the supervisor was acting within the scope of his employment to cause his employer to be vicariously liable. There was the issue of whether defendants' response breached that duty. There was the issue whether the employee's new employer terminated her because of defendants' response or poor job performance. The court reversed and remanded so that the trial court could address these issues.

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