Law School Case Brief
Super Future Equities, Inc. v. Wells Fargo Bank Minn., N.A. - 553 F. Supp. 2d 680 (N.D. Tex. 2008)
A plaintiff must establish the following elements to prevail on a business disparagement claim: (1) the defendant published false and disparaging information about it, (2) with malice, (3) without privilege, (4) that resulted in special damages to the plaintiff. To prove special damages, a plaintiff must provide evidence of direct, pecuniary loss attributable to the false communications of the defendants.
Plaintiff Super Future Equities, Inc., a debtor and holder of two mortgage backed securities trusts, filed this action against Defendants Wells Fargo Bank Minnesota, N.A. (Lender); ORIX Capital Markets, LLC and ORIX USA Corporation (Orix), and several Counter-Defendant individuals, claiming breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, gross negligence, breach of contract, and civil violations of Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Orix filed a counterclaim against Super Future Equities and others alleging libel per se, business disparagement, tortious interference with contractual relationships, common law conspiracy, and copyright infringement. After the federal district court granted the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on all of Super Future Equities' claims, the Counter-Defendants filed their Motion for Summary Judgment Orix's counterclaims, which argued that the statements on the website constitute libel per se. The Counter-Defendants claimed that the statements were mere opinions.
Were the statements made on the website libelous?
Statements on a website that Wells-Fargo, the Lender, "flat out lied," and accusations of predatory lending, even with a "private opinion" disclaimer, were not opinions. Wells-Fargo, while well-known in its industry, was a private figure. The website was an unsolicited comment on a private lawsuit, not a matter of public concern. Simply couching such statements in terms of opinion did not dispel these implications; and the statement, "In my opinion Jones is a liar," can cause as much damage to reputation as the statement, "Jones is a liar." The Court also considered the context in which these statements were made. The disclaimer that "This is my private information and opinion" does not transform the statements into opinions. The court granted the Counter-Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment as to Orix's counterclaims for business disparagement, tortious interference with contractual relationships, and copyright infringement. The court further granted Super Future's Motion for Summary Judgment as to Orix's counterclaims for libel per se and conspiracy, but denied the Motion as to libel per se and conspiracy with respect to all other Counter-Defendants.
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