In a libel action, the court determines whether a communication is capable of bearing a particular meaning, and whether that meaning is defamatory. The jury determines whether a communication, capable of a defamatory meaning, was so understood by its recipient.
Plaintiff sought review of an order entered in the federal district court which dismissed plaintiff’s complaint sounding in defamation for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted and holding that defendants’ statements regarding plaintiff were unambiguously non-defamatory. Plaintiff was a well-known attorney who filed suit against defendant newspaper, its columnist, and an interviewee, for the publication of a story that claimed plaintiff charged clothing to his hotel bill for which a state bar association was paying. The alleged event not only occurred 9 years prior, but was untrue.
Whether determining if a potentially defamatory newspaper article was understood as so by its recipient/subject?
The court reversed and remanded for a new trial holding that while the trial court’s purpose was to determine whether a communication was capable of bearing a particular meaning and whether it was defamatory, it was a jury issue whether that meaning was understood by the recipient as defamatory. Due to the libel action’s revival, the conspiracy count was revived and survived dismissal due to pleading of malice generally.