Common law slander per se encompasses false statements that the plaintiff is guilty of a crime, afflicted with a loathsome disease, or unchaste, as well as false statements that concern the plaintiff's ability to engage in his or her occupation or business. In such cases the plaintiff is not required to plead damages, as damages are presumed from the nature of the defamation. Where the words are not actionable as slander per se, the tort is referred to as slander per quod and the plaintiff is required to plead and prove, in addition, special damages. Special damages in this sense means a loss of money or of some advantage capable of being assessed in monetary value, such as the loss of a marriage, employment, income, profits, or even gratuitous hospitality. in defamation cases the old rules of per se and per quod do not apply and plaintiff need only to plead and prove the unified defamation elements set out in MAI 23.01(1) and 23.01(2). Plaintiffs need not concern themselves with whether the defamation was per se or per quod, nor with whether special damages exist, but must prove actual damages in all cases.
The director chaired teacher evaluation teams and visited college campuses to conduct such evaluations. The vice-president described the director as incompetent, prejudiced against the college, and opposed to church schools having education programs. The lower court dismissed the director's petition for failure to state a claim on which relief could be granted, and the director appealed. On appeal, the court held that: 1. alleged remarks accusing the director of lack of fitness to perform her official duties and conspiracy to effect a bad evaluation of the college were slanderous per se under traditional defamation law; 2. defamation plaintiffs did not need to concern themselves with whether defamation was per se or per quod or with whether special damages existed, but needed to prove actual damages in all cases; and 3. alleged statement by the vice-president to faculty members at another college that he had taken care of the evaluator, and that she would no longer be on campus, was not actionable, and would not support a claim of prima facie tort or intentional infliction of emotional distress, as it imputed no misconduct to the director, and did not question her integrity.
Did the lower court err in dismissing the counts in the petition alleging slander per se or slander per quod?
While the attacks of respondents upon appellant's allegations of slander per se and slander per quod did not persuade the court that appellant failed to state a claim thereunder, they do reveal the undue difficulty of use of the traditional per se and per quod requirements. Although it is clear that respondent's remarks were defamatory, attempts to characterize them as per se or per quod appear more artificial than real. Unfortunately, the result of the classifications may have a very real impact more far-reaching than justified. In one case the jury is free to presume damages. In the other the jury is precluded from awarding actual damages unless special damages are proven. The court held that in defamation cases the old rules of per se and per quod do not apply and plaintiff need only to plead and prove the unified defamation elements set out in MAI 23.01(1) and 23.01(2). Plaintiffs need not concern themselves with whether the defamation was per se or per quod, nor with whether special damages exist, but must prove actual damages in all cases.