Monday, December 14, 2015

Defamation claims must satisfy Iqbal pleading standards

The Iqbal pleading requirements that the Supreme Court set forth in 2009 affect every civil case. This case applies Iqbal to defamation actions. The Second Circuit says the plaintiff has not plead that defendants acted with actual malice in defaming him. This means the case is over before it starts.

The case is Biro v. Conde Nast, decided on December 8. The article in question is at this link. Here is how the Court of Appeals sets up the case:

This defamation suit involves a July 2010 article (the “Article”) written by journalist David Grann and published by The New Yorker. The Article focused on Biro, a controversial figure known in the art world for using fingerprint analysis to authenticate art in an effort to insert a measure of objectivity into a previously subjective process. The Article raised questions about the trustworthiness of Biro’s methods and his authentication of paintings. Among other things, the Article contained interviews of various individuals critical of Biro, and it suggested that Biro stood to profit from some of his more dubious authentications. To say the  least, we agree with the District Court’s observation that “[t]here is little question that a reader may walk away from the Article with a negative impression of Biro.”

Limited purpose public figure plaintiffs like this guy have to show the defamation was made with actual malice, or knowledge that the statements were false or with reckless disregard as to their falsity. The Supreme Court told us that in 1964. Malice must be alleged plausibly under Rule 8 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. This is the first time the Second Circuit (Lohier, Jacobs and Crawford [D.J.]) has reached this holding. No longer can the plaintiff tell the court he can prove malice with discovery; now, he has to allege facts that plausibly point to actual malice. This makes it much harder for the case to break out of the gate.

Under these new rules, plaintiff has not met his burden. The Complaint does not "allege facts that would have prompted the New Yorker defendants to question the reliability of any of the named or unnamed sources at the time the Article was published." In addition, "The failure of the New Yorker defendants to correct a statement unrelated to the allegedly defamatory statements in light of events that occurred after publication is similarly insufficient to render the allegation of actual malice plausible." 

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