Libelous statements can be either defamatory per se or defamatory per quod. If a libelous statement is defamatory per se, damage is presumed and a plaintiff need not plead special damages. If a statement is defamatory per quod, special damages must be alleged to sustain the claim.
To state a claim for emotional distress by outrageous conduct, a plaintiff must allege behavior by a defendant that is extremely egregious. Intentional infliction of emotional distress is defined as one who by extreme and outrageous conduct intentionally or recklessly causes severe emotional distress to another is subject to liability for such emotional distress, and if bodily harm to the other results from it, for such bodily harm.
Han Ye Lee brought claims of defamation and extreme and outrageous conduct against Colorado Times, Inc., its owner, and a reporter (newspaper), when a story was published about Han Ye Lee not testifying about her husband's murder. Ultimately, the El Paso County District Court, Colorado, granted partial summary judgments in favor of the newspaper on both claims. Han Ye Lee appealed.
Did the district court err in granting partial summary judgments in favor of Colorado Times, Inc.?
On review, Han Ye Lee raised several issues contending summary judgment was improper. The appellate court agreed, finding that the trial court treated the newspaper's factual allegations as true rather than viewing the facts in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, Han Ye Lee. The trial court also erred in concluding newspaper's statements were defamatory per quod and granting summary judgment because Han Ye Lee failed to allege special damages as the alleged libelous statements were defamatory per se and did not require Han Ye Lee to plead special damages. The newspaper did not meet its burden to show there was no genuine issue of material fact as the Han Ye Lee's answer to interrogatories stated that both she and others in her community reasonably believed the column referred to her. Therefore, there was sufficient evidence in the record to present a genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the column referred to Han Ye Lee. Reasonable jurors could have viewed the first column as outrageous, going beyond all possible bounds of decency, atrocious, and utterly intolerable as it stated that the wife, a crime victim, was disloyal to her late husband, whose murder she witnessed.